A top al Qaeda operative wanted for his role in the 1998 embassy bombings has been captured in Tripoli. The senior al Qaeda terrorist, known as Abu Anas al Libi, was detained by American troops assisted by agents from the FBI and CIA, according to The New York Times.
Al Libi, whose real name is Nazih Abdul Hamed al Ruqai, has compiled an extensive dossier since the 1990s, when he began working directly for Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. He relocated with al Qaeda to Sudan in the early 1990s, and was part of the terrorist team that plotted the twin US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998.
According to a federal indictment filed during the Clinton administration, al Libi “conducted visual and photographic surveillance of the United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya” along with another al Qaeda member in 1993. He investigated the possibility of terrorist attacks on other Western and Israeli targets inside Kenya as well.
Al Libi lived in the UK, and after the embassy bombings his apartment there was raided. Authorities found a copy of a manual entitled, “Military Studies in the jihad Against the Tyrants,” which included advice on everything from forging passports to using poisons such as ricin in terrorist attacks.
In September 2012, CNN reported that al Libi, a computer and intelligence specialist, was living freely in Tripoli.
While al Libi’s pre-9/11 career has garnered much attention in the reporting on his capture, his more recent activities have already drawn attention.
The “builder of al Qaeda’s network in Libya”
An unclassified report published in August 2012 highlighted al Qaeda’s strategy for building a fully operational network in Libya. The report (“Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile”) was prepared by the federal research division of the Library of Congress (LOC) under an agreement with the Defense Department’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO). [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s plan for Libya highlighted in congressional report.]
Abu Anas al Libi has played a key role in al Qaeda’s plan for Libya, according to the report’s authors. He was described as the “builder of al Qaeda’s network in Libya.”
Al Qaeda’s senior leadership (AQSL) has “issued strategic guidance to followers in Libya and elsewhere to take advantage of the Libyan rebellion,” the report reads. AQSL ordered its followers to “gather weapons,” “establish training camps,” “build a network in secret,” “establish an Islamic state,” and “institute sharia” law in Libya.
Abu Anas al Libi was identified as the key liaison between AQSL and others inside Libya who were working for al Qaeda. “Reporting indicates that intense communications from AQSL are conducted through Abu Anas al Libi, who is believed to be an intermediary between [Ayman al] Zawahiri and jihadists in Libya,” the report notes.
Al Libi is “most likely involved in al Qaeda strategic planning and coordination between AQSL and Libyan Islamist militias who adhere to al Qaeda’s ideology,” the report continues.
Al Libi and his fellow al Qaeda operatives “have been conducting consultations with AQSL in Afghanistan and Pakistan about announcing the presence of a branch of the organization that will be led by returnees from Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan, and by leading figures from the former LIFG.” The LIFG refers to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group formed in Libya in the 1990s.
One of Abu Anas al Libi’s key allies inside Libya is another senior al Qaeda operative, Abd al Baset Azzouz, who has been close to al Qaeda’s senior leaders for decades.
Azzouz was sent to Libya by Zawahiri and “has been operating at least one training center.” Azzouz “sent some of his estimated 300 men…to make contact with other militant Islamist groups farther west.”
“Core” al Qaeda members not confined to South Asia
Abu Anas al Libi has been serving al Qaeda since the 1990s and continued to do Ayman al Zawahiri’s bidding in Libya, according to the August 2012 report. He is, by any reasonable standard, a “core” member of al Qaeda.
That term, “core al Qaeda,” is not well-defined. Yet the most common paradigm for understanding al Qaeda is built on the idea that there is a “core” of leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with other affiliated groups elsewhere. But al Libi’s career demonstrates that “core” al Qaeda members are not necessarily located in South Asia.
There are many additional examples of “core” al Qaeda members operating outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
For instance, in August, Ayman al Zawahiri promoted Nasir al Wuhayshi, the emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), to the position of al Qaeda’s overall general manager. This is a “core” al Qaeda function and Wuhayshi, who was Osama bin Laden’s protégé, was certainly one of al Qaeda’s most trusted members even before receiving his promotion. [See LWJ reports, Analysis: Recent embassy closures triggered by Zawahiri communications with multiple subordinates and AQAP’s emir also serves as al Qaeda’s general manager.]
In the weeks that follow, more details about al Libi’s relationship with AQSL in recent months may be uncovered by American authorities.