Alleged Al Qaeda Member Anas Al-Libi Pleads Not Guilty

Appointed lawyer says presumption of innocence "not a small technicality here."

ByABC News
October 14, 2013, 2:29 PM

Oct. 15, 2013 — -- Snatched off the streets of Libya, interrogated on a U.S. Navy ship and finally appearing in a wood paneled courtroom in New York City, alleged al Qaeda member Abu Anas al Libi went before Judge Lewis Kaplan today to plead not guilty on terrorism charges.

The 49-year-old al-Libi appeared far older than his FBI wanted picture -- gaunt, hollow cheeks, grey-brown scraggly beard. He was cuffed at the wrists, not the ankles. He spoke a bit in a gravelly voice to state his name and answer judge's questions.

"It's a good day," said FBI special agent Rich Frankel.

Al-Libi, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, had been on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist list for more than a decade for his alleged involvement in the dual bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 which claimed more than 200 lives, 12 of them American.

The U.S. Army's famed Delta Force grabbed al-Libi Oct. 5 in an early morning operation, according to a military source, as he was returning home from morning prayers in Tripoli, Libya. He was then whisked to a Navy ship in the Mediterranean, where security experts said he was likely questioned by the U.S. government's High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) for days before likely being turned over to the FBI for transport stateside.

Prosecutors said he was secretly spirited to the U.S. over the weekend. Two U.S. officials said Monday the move was hastened because of al-Libi's health -- his illness described by one official as "severely acute last week."

Another official told ABC News he feared al-Libi would not live long enough to "see justice served in a courtroom."

Al-Libi's wife previously revealed her husband suffered from hepatitis C in media interviews.

David Patton, a federal defender temporarily assigned to al-Libi, said he believes the goverment should have appointed him attorney much earlier after he was captured. He also noted how briefly al-Libi appears in the federal indictment against him for the embassy bombings.

"The presumption of innocence is not a small technicality here," Patton said. "In a 150-page indictment, Mr. al-Ruqai is mentioned in a mere three paragraphs relating to conduct in 1993 and 1994 and nothing since. The allegation is that he met with Al Qaeda members about a possible bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi, Kenya that ended up taking place five years later in 1998. There is no allegation that he had any connection to Al Qaeda after 1994, and he is eager to move forward with the legal process in this case."

Two days after al-Libi's capture, his wife told CNN her husband is innocent of the U.S. accusations and said he left al Qaeda two years before the embassy bombings.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters today the U.S. will "eventually" grant Libya consular access to the accused terrorist. "It's something we are committed to," she said.

READ: How U.S. Interrogators Could Make Anas Al-Libi Talk

"We know that Mr. [Anas] al-Libi planned and helped execute plots that killed hundreds of people, a whole lot of Americans, and we have strong evidence of that and he will be brought to justice," President Obama said last week, dodging a reporter's question about whether the snatch operation complied with international law.

ABC News' Mike Levine and Lee Ferran contributed to this report.

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