Tripoli (AFP) – U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday an alleged Al-Qaeda operative snatched by U.S. commandos in Libya was involved in plots that killed hundreds of people and will be brought to justice.
Obama was speaking just hours after Libya demanded Washington “immediately” hand back Abu Anas al-Libi, claiming his capture was a flagrant violation of the country’s sovereignty.
Vowing that America will continue to hunt down regional terror groups, Obama told reporters that Libi “helped plan and execute plots that killed hundreds of people, a whole lot of Americans. We have strong evidence of that. And he will be brought to justice.”
Libya is bristling after the U.S. commandos snatched Libi, a Libyan citizen, from his car on a Tripoli street in broad daylight on Saturday.
The government summoned the U.S. ambassador and Prime Minister Ali Zeidan insisted all Libyans should be tried on home soil.
The case has embarrassed the Libyan government and put it under pressure from its critics — notably former rebel groups in the 2011 revolt that ousted dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
The General National Congress stressed “the need for the immediate surrender” of Libi, and described the U.S. operation as a “flagrant violation” of Libya’s sovereignty.
The text also called for the “need to allow the Libyan authorities and their families to get in touch with him (Libi) and guarantee them access to a lawyer.”
It was the first official statement from Libya that clearly condemned the operation.
Libi — whose real name is Nazih Abdul Hamed al-Raghie — was on the FBI’s most wanted list with a $5 million (3.7 million euro) bounty on his head for his alleged role in the 1998 twin bombings of two US embassies in East Africa.
He is reportedly being held aboard a U.S. naval ship in the Mediterranean.
The justice minister summoned U.S. ambassador Deborah Jones to answer questions about the operation.
“Salah al-Marghani summoned the ambassador of the United States on Monday morning to ask for answers to several questions relating to the case” of Libi’s capture, his ministry said.
Marghani and foreign ministry officials met members of Libi’s family, who were told of the meeting with Jones.
Zeidan said that, while he valued Tripoli’s “important” relationship with Washington, Libyans should not be tried abroad.
“We insist that Libyan citizens must be tried in Libya, and Libya will not deliver its citizens abroad for trial,” he said.
So far, Washington has refused to say publicly whether it sought permission from Libya’s pro-Western, but weak central government for the operation, but insisted it was legal under U.S. law.
Obama however refused to answer a question at a White House news conference on whether he believed Libi’s capture inside Libya was in accordance with international law.
He defended U.S. actions though, saying that in parts of Africa radical groups could mobilise because of “the lack of capacity on the part of the governments, in some cases because it is easier for folks to hide out in vast terrains that are sparsely populated.”
“We’re going to have to continue to go after them,” said the U.S. commander-in-chief.
‘Hunt down and expel illegal foreigners’
Meanwhile, the Operations Room of Libya’s Revolutionaries, a group of ex-rebels, said it was on high alert “in light of the deterioration in security and damage to the country’s sovereignty by foreign intelligence bodies.”
It ordered its fighters to be prepared for orders to “hunt down and expel foreigners who are illegally in the country.”
Rights groups have criticised the operation, urging the U.S. to respect Libi’s rights and to give him access to legal advice.
Human Rights Watch’s Laura Pitter said the United States “needs to respect his rights so that he can be fairly tried in a civilian court.
“That means ensuring he gets a lawyer during any questioning and that he is promptly brought before a judge and charged.”
Amnesty International has sharply criticised Libi’s capture, saying it violated “fundamental human rights principles”.
The operation in Tripoli was one of two U.S. raids at the weekend.
Navy SEALs launched an attack on a stronghold in the southern Somali port of Barawe of the Al-Shebab, targeting an elusive Kenyan commander of the Islamist group.
Their success was unclear, as they were forced to withdraw before they could confirm whether they had killed their target.
AFP Photo/Jewel Samad