Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Angry reactions continued to emerge from Libya on Tuesday following the capture of an alleged Al-Qaeda operative by US Special Forces earlier this week, with Tripoli summoning the US ambassador to the country for questioning.
Libyan Justice Minister Salah Al-Marghani summoned US ambassador Deborah Jones on Monday, demanding “a number of explanations concerning the case”, according to an official statement.
Abu Anas Al-Liby, a suspect wanted in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 224 people, was seized by US Delta Force soldiers at dawn in Tripoli on Saturday.
Speaking from Rabat, Morocco, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan announced that he had asked Washington for “clarification” regarding Saturday’s raid, adding that Libya is “keen on prosecuting any Libyan citizen inside Libya, no matter what the charges are.”
However Zeidan’s latest statement, in which he added that “the accused are innocent until proven guilty,” appears to raise questions regarding just how much Libya knew in advance about the raid.
For his part, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Al-Liby—real name Nazih Abdul-Hamed Al-Ruqai—was a “legal target,” adding that he would face justice in a court of law. CNN also quoted a US official as saying that Saturday’s raid had been conducted with the knowledge of the Libyan government.
The Libyan General National Congress (GNC) met on Monday to discuss the raid and Tripoli’s response.
Congressman Monem Alyasser, chairman of the GNC’s National Security Committee, refused to reveal any information regarding the circumstances behind Liby’s capture.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The GNC will issue an official statement soon. We do not want to make any premature statements.”
However, he was also quick to condemn the raid, citing Libyan national sovereignty. “Of course the abduction of a Libyan national on Libyan territory by foreign forces is unacceptable,” he said.
Several members of the GNC, which enjoys the highest constitutional powers in the country, denied any prior knowledge of the raid.
However a Libyan official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, contradicted these denials, claiming that an official Libyan agency was involved in the operation to capture Liby.
“This is an agency that is capable of assisting the US forces in carrying out this precision operation, providing comprehensive intelligence, capturing the abductee, and moving quickly,” he said.
“These parties are most definitely trying to win American trust with operations such as this one. This operation must certainly have taken place with the knowledge of some ministers, who wanted to allay any [US] reservations about Libya,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Libyan government, who anticipate a strong reaction from Islamists over the capture of Al-Liby, have officially described the incident as a “kidnapping.”
No firm action has yet been taken by Islamist groups in response to the operation, but several groups have taken to social networking websites to express their anger.
One Facebook group called “Benghazi is Protected by its People,” called on Libyans to blockade Tripoli and kidnap US citizens so that they can be used to bargain for the release of imprisoned supporters.
“The Revolutionaries of Benghazi—al-Bayda, Derna” is another Facebook group which issued a warning to the government and “everyone who betrayed his country and involved himself in this conspiracy. We say that this shameful act will cost the Libyan government a lot and it will be as you will see and not as you hear.”
For his part, Islamist leader Abdul Bassit Haroun also warned of public reaction against Liby’s capture.
“There will be a strong reaction in order to take revenge because this is one of the most important Al-Qaeda figures,” he told Reuters.
Ahmed Abu Khattala, an Ansar Al-Sharia commander who is wanted for the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, denied that he had gone into hiding following the news of Liby’s capture.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said: “Inshallah [God willing] a repeat of this [kidnapping] will not happen to me.”
“American accusations that I am culpable [for the Benghazi attack] are false and they must share any evidence they have. There is no basis for an allegation without any evidence,” he said.
Suspicions that the Libyan authorities not only knew about, but participated, in the raid on Liby were strengthened by the witness account made by his son. Speaking about his father’s abductors, Abdullah Al-Ruqai told reports: “They had a Libyan look and Libyan accents.”
He also told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The way they grabbed my father was unnatural, which indicated that they used some sort of drug. This is what we think,”.
Abdullah defended his father, saying that the allegations that have been made against him are false. He said that his father is the victim of false intelligence provided to US security forces by Libyan agents.
Public opinion remains divided over whether the Libyan government had foreknowledge of the US raid, or if Libyan authorities participated in Liby’s capture directly, with many expressing anger over the presumed US breach of national sovereignty.
The National Forces Alliance, led by Mahmoud Jibril, issued a statement saying that while the group opposes terrorism and extremism in all its forms, it also objects to any violation of Libyan sovereignty by foreign powers.
For his part, Abdelhakim Belhadj, one of the leading rebels involved in the toppling of the Gaddafi regime, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “I have no knowledge on the matter…the story has several sides…there’s the official view released by the government, but other sides to the story have emerged from the judiciary and Attorney General. There are matters that require further enquiry. The government‘s stance in clear and it has issued a statement in that regard.”