BALI, INDONESIA -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday defended the capture of a terrorism suspect by American Special Forces in Libya, sayingcomplaints about the operation from Libya and others are unfounded.
Kerry said the weekend seizure in Tripoli of suspected al Qaeda operative Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai—known by his alias, Abu Anas al-Libi—complied with U.S. law. He said the suspect was a “legal and appropriate target” for the U.S. military and will face justice in a court of law. Kerry added it was important not to “sympathize” with wanted terrorists.
CBS News correspondent David Martin reports al-Libi is being held on a Navy ship in the Mediterranean Sea where he will be interrogated about his many years as a leading member of al Qaeda, before being sent to New York for criminal prosecution.
The Pentagon’s chief spokesman George Little said Saturday al-Libi “is currently lawfully detained by the U.S. military in a secure location outside of Libya.” He did not disclose further details.
“I hope the perception is in the world that people who commit acts of terror and who have been appropriately indicted by courts of law, by the legal process, will know that United States of America is going to do anything in its power that is legal and appropriate in order to enforce the law and to protect our security,” Kerry told reporters Monday after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific economic conference.
“I think it’s important for people in the world not to sympathize with alleged terrorists but to underscore the importance of the rule of law,” he added, when asked about the Libyan government’s complaint that the seizure amounted to kidnapping. Libya has asked Washington to explain and clarify its actions.
Al-Libi, was seized on the streets of the Libyan capital on Saturday. He is 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.
Kerry, a former prosecutor, noted that al-Libi has been indicted by a U.S. court and will have a chance to defend himself.
“An indictment is an accusation,” Kerry said. “In our legal system the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but he will now have an opportunity to defend himself and to be appropriately brought to justice in a court of law.”
Earlier, Kerry said the raids would send the message that terrorists “can run but they can’t hide.”
“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,” Kerry said, from the Indonesian capital of Bali where he is attending an economic summit.
“Members of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations literally can run but they can’t hide,” he added.
The raid in Tripoli was one of two counterterrorism operations conducted by the U.S. on Saturday. In Somalia, Navy SEALs stormed what was believed to be the hideout of the leader of al-Shabab. The raid was called off after a heavy firefight. No U.S. casualties were reported in either operation.
Libya said Sunday it asked the United States for “clarifications” regarding the al-Libi abduction. In a statement, the government said it “contacted the American authorities and asked it to present clarifications” regarding the abduction. It also said it hoped the incident would not impact its strategic relationship with the United States.
Al-Libi’s capture represents a significant blow to what remains of the core al Qaeda organization once led by Osama bin Laden.