Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Making light of Al-Libi?

Washington has been trying to absolve itself of the charge of infringing on Libya’s sovereignty by abducting Al-Qaeda member Abu Anas Al-Libi, writes Gamal Nkrumah

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Libyan government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan appears to have adopted a policy of ignorance is bliss, though it has condemned the abduction in the Libyan capital Tripoli of Abu Anas Al-Libi, real name Nazih Abdel-Hamed Al-Ruqai, who was captured this weekend by American special forces on his way home from performing dawn prayers.

The condemnation came after the Libyan government had denied all knowledge of the abduction. But while blame for the infringement of Libyan sovereignty by abducting a Libyan citizen on Libyan territory can be placed at the door of the Oval Office in Washington, the Libyan authorities also bear some of the responsibility. 

The riddle, according to Al-Libi’s family, friends and neighbours, is that his abductors spoke with Libyan accents, hinting at collaboration between the Americans and the Libyan security forces, a claim the Libyan authorities fiercely deny.

Protests erupted in several Libyan cities as a result of the abduction, the largest being in the eastern metropolis of Benghazi, where Islamist militias are most active and where the American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was assassinated along with three other Americans in September 2012.  

The episode remains as poisonous a topic in Libya as the trial of Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi, son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Al-Libi’s son, Abdallah Al-Ruqai, told the Associated Press that his father had been part of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a militant Islamist organisation that was instrumental in executing Gaddafi at the end of the country’s civil conflict.

The Libyan national army and security forces are weak, and the country is being effectively policed by regional, mostly militant Islamist, militia who wield tremendous local power.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, in Bali, Indonesia, declared on Sunday that members of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups “can run but they can’t hide” in the face of US attempts to track them down.

Kerry’s comments came after twin raids by US forces in Somalia and Libya and the capture of Al-Libi, who has been wanted by the US for 15 years ostensibly because he planned the 1998 US embassy attacks in the Kenyan and Tanzanian capitals Nairobi and Dar Al-Salam respectively.

Kerry added that Washington “will never stop in the effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror”.

Zeidan issued an official complaint concerning Saturday’s military operation, but observers suspect that the Libyan government may have been complicit in the matter. There was an American reward of $5 million on the head of Al-Libi, who had been living in Libya apparently freely and without fear.

“The Libyan government has contacted the US authorities to ask them to provide an explanation,” Zeidan’s office said in a statement early on Sunday. Al-Libi is now being held for interrogation aboard the US warship San Antonio in the Mediterranean, US officials said.

The incident has had repercussions in other Western countries. British Home Secretary Theresa May faces questions from MPs over why Britain had earlier granted asylum to Al-Libi, one of the world’s most wanted Al-Qaeda suspects.

Keith Vaz, chair of the home affairs select committee, said that he would be raising concerns over why Al-Libi had been given asylum ahead of his alleged involvement in the 1998 American embassy bombings in East Africa.

The granting of political asylum to militant Islamists has already caused an international furore at a time when some Muslim-majority nations are battling with militant Islamist terrorism.

Questions were raised about why Al-Libi, who reportedly arrived in Britain in the mid-1990s and lived in Manchester, had been granted political asylum by Britain.

The 49-year-old Al-Libi was arrested by the British police in 1999, the year after the East African bombings. But he was later released and left Britain in mysterious circumstances, resurfacing in Libya just before the demise of the Gaddafi regime.

While the granting of asylum is a controversial issue, so is the territorial integrity and sovereignty of developing countries like Libya. Whether the Americans will now be able to secure information from Al-Libi is not known, and the implications of the abduction and interrogation of a non-US citizen by American agents have yet to be worked out.

It is not clear where international law stands on these crucial questions, but it seems clear that the US in this case acted without the least regard for Libyan sovereignty.

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