By Dow Jones Business News, October 15, 2013, 02:25:00 PM EDT
NEW YORK--An alleged leader of al Qaeda pleaded not guilty in federal court Tuesday to charges that he helped plan the
1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.
Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, also known as Abu Anas al-Libi, made his first court appearance in the U.S. after being
charged by federal prosecutors more than a decade ago. Mr. Ruqai, 49 years old, whose long, reddish-gray beard dipped
over his black shirt, sat silently through the arraignment, which lasted less than an hour. The proceedings in Manhattan
were translated into Arabic for Mr. Ruqai, who does not speak English. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said he would
appoint a lawyer for Mr. Ruqai because he could not afford to hire his own counsel.
The defendant was indicted along with Osama bin Laden and more than a dozen other suspects accused of running a global
terrorist conspiracy under the name of al Qaeda.
Mr. Ruqai's plea followed a dramatic series of events in recent weeks, starting with his capture in Libya earlier this
month in a raid by the U.S. Army's Delta Force and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Hostage Rescue Team. He then
underwent a weeklong interrogation aboard the USS San Antonio in the Mediterranean Sea before coming to New York over
the weekend, according to U.S. officials.
The U.S. officials said he has several long-term health problems, which worsened during his time onboard ship. The
officials would not describe the medical problems, but his wife has told reporters that he suffers from hepatitis C. Mr.
Ruqai appeared to have difficulty standing at times during Tuesday's hearing.
His time in military custody was cut short by his worsening medical condition, the officials said, and he was sent to
New York earlier than U.S. officials had originally planned, so that he could receive more expert medical treatment.
Aboard the military ship, the suspect sometimes refused to eat, but accepted an intravenous line to sustain him,
Mr. Ruqai's transfer marks another instance where the Obama administration has decided to put global terror suspects
on trial in federal court, rather than military tribunals as some Republicans in Congress have urged.
Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.) said that if medical treatment required Mr. Ruqai's removal from the ship, he should have
been taken to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for treatment, not New York, so that questioning could
"It's not convicting him I'm worried about, it's getting intelligence through interrogation," said Mr. King. "I
believe we could have gotten a lot more out of him. Now that he's in the U.S., the interrogation stops and he tells us
what he wants to tell us."
Some Democrats, in turn, praised the move.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Monday that "the indefinite detention
of al-Libi at Guantanamo would have been unnecessary and unwise."
Administration officials point to the federal courts' track record of convicting terrorists. More than 125 defendants
have been convicted of terrorism-related charges in federal court since 2009, according to the Justice Department. In
contrast, many cases in the military tribunal system used at Guantanamo Bay have stalled.
U.S. officials have described Mr. Ruqai as a second-tier leader within the original al Qaeda structure who has
expertise in surveillance and computers. Investigators allege that in the 1990s he twice helped scout potential targets
for the plot that resulted in the 1998 embassy bombings.
He came under suspicion while living in England in the late 1990s, where he moved to seek asylum as an opponent of
Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Libya. Mr. Ruqai was indicted by the U.S. for the embassy bombings in 2000.
In statements to news media after his capture, Mr. Ruqai's family said he isn't a member of al Qaeda.
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