A suspected Libyan al-Qaida figure nabbed by U.S. special forces in a dramatic operation in Tripoli was living freely in his homeland for the past two years, after a trajectory that took him to Sudan, Afghanistan and Iran, where he had been detained for years, his family said Sunday. The Libyan government bristled at the raid, asking Washington to explain the "kidnapping."
The swift Delta Force operation in the streets of the Libyan capital that seized the militant known as Abu Anas al-Libi was one of two assaults Saturday that showed an American determination to move directly against terror suspects - even in two nations mired in chaos where the U.S. has suffered deadly humiliations in the past.
Hours before the Libya raid, a Navy SEAL team swam ashore in the East African nation of Somalia and engaged in a fierce firefight, though it did not capture its target, a leading militant in the al-Qaida-linked group that carried out the recent Kenyan mall siege.
Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets in New York on Thursday with Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.
"We hope that this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in the effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday at an economic summit in Indonesia. "Members of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations literally can run but they can't hide."
Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Abu Anas al-Libi, was accused by the U.S. of involvement in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, which killed more than 220 people. He has been on the FBI's most wanted terrorists list since it was introduced shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack, with a $5 million bounty on his head.
U.S. officials depicted his capture as a significant blow against al-Qaida, which has lost a string of key figures, including leader Osama bin Laden, killed in a 2011 raid in Pakistan.
Al-Libi's capture was a bold strike in the Libyan capital. He had just parked his car outside his Tripoli home, returning from dawn prayers Saturday, when 10 commandos in multiple vehicles surrounded him, his brother Nabih al-Ruqai told the Associated Press. They smashed his car's window and seized his gun before grabbing al-Libi and fleeing.
He was swiftly spirited out of the country. U.S. Defense Department spokesman George Little said he was being held "in a secure location outside of Libya." He did not elaborate further.
In a statement Sunday, the Libyan government said it asked the U.S. for "clarifications" about what it called the "kidnapping," underlining that its citizens should be tried in Libyan courts if accused of a crime. It said it hoped its "strategic partnership" with Washington would not be damaged by the incident.
Still, the relatively soft-toned statement underlined the predicament of the Libyan government. It is criticized by opponents at home over its ties with Washington, but it is also reliant on security cooperation with the Americans.