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Monday, October 7, 2013

Libya Demands Explanation As Kerry Defends US Raid

This image from the FBI website shows Anas al-Libi. Gunmen in a three-car convoy seized Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Anas al-Libi, an al-Qaeda leader connected to the 1998 embassy bombings in eastern Africa and wanted by the U.S. for more than a decade outside his house Saturday in the Libyan capital, his relatives said. (FBI via AP)

Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Anas al-Libi, is an al-Qaeda leader connected to the 1998 embassy bombings in eastern Africa. (FBI via AP)

The Libyan government says it wants to prosecute Libyan citizens at home, and has asked the U.S. for “clarifications” in the abduction of an alleged al-Qaida leader by U.S. commandos.

The U.S. Army’s Delta Force conducted raids in Somalia and in the Libyan capital Tripoli over the weekend, capturing Anas al-Libi, an Al-Qaeda leader suspected of masterminding the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling al-Libi a “legal target,” adding that terrorists who attack American interests, “can run but they can’t hide.”

Early reports said the Libyan government had assisted in the raid, but comments from government officials have some experts asking if the Libyan government knew much, or anything, about it.




Well, let's focus now on that raid in Libya that Eric was just talking about, where U.S. commandos did successfully capture Anas al-Libi, who officials say is suspected of masterminding the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa. More than 220 people were killed in those attacks.

The Libyan government is asking the U.S. for, quote, clarifications over the operation over this weekend, which comes two years after the revolution that ended the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. Secretary of State John Kerry says al-Libi was a legal target, but there are questions, especially in Libya, about the legality of U.S. forces going into a sovereign nation to capture a suspect.

The BBC's Rana Jawad joins us, via Skype, from the Libyan capital Tripoli. Rana, welcome.

RANA JAWAD: Thank you.

HOBSON: So there are conflicting reports about what role, if any, the Libyan government had in this raid. What are you hearing?

JAWAD: We've only heard from the Libyan government once, so far. They released a press statement on their official site on Facebook. Our assessment from their statement and from talking to other sources, it would appear that they did not know about this operation, and it took them completely by surprise. We know that the prime minister is not even in the country, so it would seem up until now that if anyone did know about it from the government, they were very few people.

HOBSON: Well, what is the reaction on the streets and among other officials to this in Libya?

JAWAD: The Libyan streets are mixed, or rather - I mean, there's a difference between the views you see on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, where you see a range of views and mixed views, some of them saying, you know, good riddance, the Americans can have them; if our government can't take out people like that, then let them do it.

But when you talk to people on the street, the overwhelming majority, at least that we have spoken to, are very angered. One of the people we spoke to said, you know, if they can easily come in to our territory like that without any permission, then what's stopping them from taking out our president.

So they're taking it very seriously. The question of sovereignty is a very sensitive one here, much like the rest of the Arab world, and so I think people are starting to look at this as, you know, could this be a game-changer in terms of public opinion towards the United States.

HOBSON: Well, what is the Libyan government today? How put together is this government now?

JAWAD: Well, they're struggling, and there's - you know, there are no two ways about it. And the people know this. And I suppose to a certain extent the government knows this, as well. They keep saying that they were operating in exceptional circumstances. This is still a very sensitive transitional period, and I think that is part of what's taken - or part of what's surprised people by this latest U.S.-led operation, people wondering, you know, are they trying to undermine the government further here.

The general view on the streets here of the Libyan government is that it is weak because in reality they don't have - they don't control the streets here. There are still a lot of armed militias and brigades that are much more powerful than them. And at this stage in the transition process, I think people are looking abroad for help and for solutions, not more obstacles.

And this latest option, at least according to the people I've spoken to and (unintelligible) is seen as just another obstacle that's been placed in the laps of the Libyan government to deal with.


And if these allegations against Mr. al-Libi turn out to be true, it does appear that Libya has become a place where terrorists or suspected terrorists can live relatively freely.

JAWAD: I think the wider view here is that Libya has become a place where it's become more difficult for the government to gather the proper intelligence about who's in the country. Whatever extremist groups are based here, we know very little about them. They keep a very low profile. We do understand that they are smaller numbers, and some people feel, especially in the east of the country where there have been quite a number of attacks especially against army officials or police stations, people believe that there are hard-line Islamists that are behind these attacks.

The issue no one ever takes responsibility for these attacks, and we also have to keep in mind that there are competing interests on the ground with the various armed groups that exist. It's not just about Islamists or hard-line Islamists, but there are also other factions here that are simply chasing the power or the money.

And so we never really know who is behind those attacks that are seen generally as being the work of extremist groups.

HOBSON: Rana, before I let you go, before this event happened, what was the view toward the United States in Libya? What do the people think of the U.S. right now?

JAWAD: Since the war, you know, there was a very positive outlook towards the United States. People were very - they were very happy with the help that they got from there, and I think I can quote someone we recently talked to in the aftermath of this latest operation that probably sums it up best.

You know, he said what happened doesn't agree with our nation, and it's about the nation's sovereignty, and irrespective of what the Americans did for us during the revolution, we appreciate and respect that, but when it comes to the country's sovereignty, I am entirely against this.

So this is why, again, it raises that question of is this a game-changer, will public opinion turn against the United States, not in its entirety. There is the view that, you know, it will cause a short-term fuss and sort of fizzle out later on. But at the moment, it's a tense situation at best.

HOBSON: The BBC's Rana Jawad in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Rana, thank you so much.

JAWAD: Thank you.

YOUNG: And there's the shutdown over government spending. We want to take a second to weigh in on that. That debate is blending into the debate over the government's ability to pay off debt that's already occurred. That deadline to raise the debt ceiling is looming on October 17th. Today the Obama administration says there is no Plan B. If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, the Treasury will be unable to pay creditors. The U.S. will default. That backs up Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's comments over the weekend that politicians who don't raise the debt ceiling are playing with fire.

Some analysts, though, are saying the Treasury could continue making priority payments, they're designed to protect the nation's credit rating. We'll continue to follow this standoff. And coming up next on HERE AND NOW, the hot topic of homework. Do you think your kids are doing too much? A father tried to do his daughter's and couldn't. That's next, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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