Abdullah al-Rugai stood outside his family’s home in a leafy Tripoli suburb today and showed where four vehicles with 10 men swooped in over the weekend to grab his father, an accused al-Qaeda leader now in U.S. custody.
“The cars blocked his car, then the white van stopped and the guys jumped out,” the 21-year-old said in an interview today. “The guys in masks, they were probably the Americans, they moved very well, like professionals. The others looked like amateurs, some of them were Libyans. Some of them were shouting at my father, ‘Get out, get out,’ in Arabic.’”
While al-Rugai denies his father was ever a terrorist, U.S. officials say he goes by the name Abu Anas al-Libi and is a veteran al-Qaeda official. Al-Libi was indicted by the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York in 2000 for taking part in deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
“He is a key al-Qaeda figure and he is a legal and an appropriate target for the U.S. military under the Authorization of the Use of Military Force passed in September of 2001,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a news conference in Bali, Indonesia.
Al-Libi is being held on the USS San Antonio in the Mediterranean where he is being questioned by interrogators including representatives of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a U.S. official briefed on the operation who spoke on condition of anonymity.
U.S. forces also raided a Somali town over the weekend in an unsuccessful effort to capture a leader of the Islamist group al-Shabaab.
U.S. armed forces undertook the missions “to hunt down those responsible for acts of terrorism,” Kerry said. “This makes clear that the U.S. will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror.”
Libya, in a statement on the government’s official Facebook page, yesterday asked the U.S. to explain its role in the seizure of one of its citizens.
“The government stresses how keen it is that Libyans should face trial in Libya regardless of the charges, and that suspects are innocent until proven guilty,” it said in the statement. “Concerned ministries have been tasked with following up the matter with U.S. authorities.”
Abdullah al-Rugai said his father was returning from a mosque at 6:30 on Saturday morning when vehicles surrounded his black Hyundai Tucson SUV. He said the men were all in civilian clothes and that three wore black face masks and carried handguns fitted with what looked like silencers.
The car, missing its driver’s window, still sits outside the home in the suburb of Noufle’een, glass from the broken window lying on the street beside it.
Abdullah said his father was pulled from the car and dragged across the road, and appeared to have been drugged or stunned by the men. “His body was floppy, he wasn’t speaking,” he said.
He said his father is innocent of conspiring to bomb U.S. embassies, never worked with Osama bin Laden and had joined rebels fighting against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“As a young man he heard how people were being killed, women raped, in Afghanistan and he wanted to help,” he said. “He went to fight the Soviets.”
At age nine, Abdullah said, he saw police in Manchester, England arrest his father. The al-Rugais later moved to Iran, where the whole family was arrested and held for seven years, he said.
Expected a Plane
In 2011, he said, his father joined rebel forces fighting to oust Muammar Qaddafi’s government in the NATO-assisted uprising. “My oldest brother was killed in the fighting,” he said.
Abdullah said his father, who taught his four sons to recite the Koran by heart, had prepared them for the day he might be captured. “My father feared he could be kidnapped at any time,” he said. “He brought each of us up to be ready to be the leader of the family.”
“We all expected we would be bombed by plane, we didn’t think they would come for him like this,” he said.
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