Libya al-Qaida suspect pleads not guilty in New York court

By Jennie Matthew, AFP

NEW YORK — A Libyan al-Qaida suspect Tuesday pleaded not guilty in a New York court to conspiracy charges over the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa that killed 244 people. Anas al-Libi was snatched from the streets of the Libyan capital Tripoli by U.S. commandos on Oct. 5 and at the weekend was brought to New York, where he was indicted by a grand jury in 2000. The 49-year-old was arraigned in New York Southern District courtroom 24A wearing a black sweater, grey jogging pants and socks and flip flops on his feet. He sported a bushy grey beard and closely cropped black hair, and appeared tired during the less than 15-minute hearing held under stringent security measures. Judge Lewis Kaplan read out a list of charges him that accuse Libi of conspiring to murder, kidnap, maim, kill, destroy property and attack U.S. defense buildings.

The charges do not carry the death penalty. Libi spoke in a gravelly voice only to confirm his name and age, and that he understood the proceedings. He spoke in Arabic and said he did not understand English, so was given simultaneous translation through a headset by an interpreter. The prosecution said Libi, whose given name is Nazih Abdul Hamed al-Raghie, was a clear danger to the public and a flight risk with no family in the United States.

The judge ordered him detained and adjourned the next hearing until Oct. 22. The Aug. 7, 1998 car bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi killed 213 people and wounded another 5,000. A near simultaneous truck bomb outside the U.S. mission in Tanzania killed 11 people and wounded 70 more. The computer expert had been on the FBI’s most wanted list with a US$5 million price on his head. Prior to arriving in New York, he was interrogated on the USS San Antonio, a U.S. amphibious transport ship that had been operating off Libya in the Mediterranean. But U.S. television network CBS said his questioning was cut short after he started to refuse food and water.

CBS said Libi suffers from hepatitis. The 2000 indictment of him and 20 more alleged al-Qaida militants lists him in direct connection to the U.S. Embassy bombing in Kenya. But only three paragraphs of the 150-page document relate directly to Libi.