On Saturday a United States special forces
unit operating in Tripoli captured
a Libyan citizen suspected of participation in terrorist bombings against American
targets. The man, Nazih Abdul-Hamed Nabih al-Ruqai (better known under the
alias Abu Anas al-Libi), has been on the U.S. most-wanted list for fifteen
years due to his alleged membership in Al Qaeda and his involvement in the
coordinated bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. Libi is apparently
held on a U.S. ship in the Mediterranean Sea.
reports that the Libyan government had been informed about the operation, the prime
minister's office issued a statement denying
any knowledge of the operation and calling upon Washington to clarify its
actions. The statement also said that the government hopes that Libi's capture will
not damage the strategic relationship between post-revolution Libya and the
There are conflicting reports about how the
American commandos snatched Libi in Tripoli, but a few interesting details have
come out. The son of Libi (shown in his family home at left in the photo above) told Alnabaa TV that his father was
arrested by a group of masked men speaking local Libyan dialect. That suggests
that the Americans either used locals in the operation or that the Libyan
government was involved to some extent.
The current Libyan government, and the Ministry
of Justice in particular, have been championing human rights and the rule of
law. How the Tripoli government handles this case will determine its
credibility on human rights, particularly in cases involving people wanted by
other nations for terrorism-related activities.
The news of Abu Anas
al-Libi's capture has met with mixed reactions from the Libyan people. Many in
Libya condemn terrorism and terrorists, and it's safe to say that most strongly
oppose the activities of religious extremist groups. Intriguingly, in an impromptu survey of
400 of its viewers, Libya's International TV channel concluded
that 68.75 percent of them support the capture of Abu Anas al-Libi, mainly citing the
Libyan government's inability to deal with suspected terrorists. The other 31.25 percent opposed the American action on the grounds that
it violated Libyan sovereignty, and that such incidents will complicate the security
situation even further in Libya.
the timing of the U.S. operation raises some serious concerns. Even if many
Libyans do approve of Libi's arrest, the U.S. action still administers a
serious blow to the Libyan government by undermining its credibility and
further weakening trust in the current authorities' ability to run the country
and ensure a successful democratic transition. The government is already
struggling to assert its control over many parts in the country, and this
latest event is bound to complicate matters.
Libyans have been expecting a U.S. intervention in their country ever since
last year's attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that led to the death of
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Others here say that they're
surprised that it took the Americans this long to mount their operations. Abu
Anas al-Libi, however, has no connection with the Benghazi consulate attack, which
has prompted some to wonder when the Americans will go after those responsible
for Stevens' killing. And when that happens, Libyans wonder whether Washington
will act in collaboration with the Tripoli government or will once again choose
to go it alone.
is a palpable danger that this latest operation will undermine the sovereignty
of Libya and an already weak government that is unable to protect itself or its
people against possible retaliation by radicals, especially in the country's
East. Many seem to think that U.S. operations on Libyan soil will galvanize
support for the extremist groups, radicalizing their sympathizers. The
radicalization process could mean that more people will join calls for "jihad" against
what they will claim to be a war on Islam led by the U.S. forces and aided by
an alleged "infidel puppet government." On Sunday, several dozen members of
Ansar al-Sharia, the group accused of orchestrating the killing of Ambassador
in the eastern city of Benghazi. They accused the Tripoli government of
standing by while the Americans captured Libi.
realize that it is hard for them to stand up to international terrorist
organizations such as al Qaeda without help from the countries of the West. There
are worries that the U.S. is not interested in seeing the issue through by coordinating
its efforts with the Libyan authorities and helping them face the growing
presence and activities of terrorists and international terrorist organizations.
capture of Libi will definitely have an effect on the security situation. Its
main impact is likely to be an increase in retaliatory attacks against Western
targets in Libya as well as against the Tripoli government itself, insofar as
jihadis suspect it of involvement. The only way to head off a negative dynamic
of this type is intensifying coordination on counterterrorism between the
Tripoli authorities and Washington.
Mohamed Eljarh is the Libya blogger for Transitions. Read
the rest of his blog posts here.