TRIPOLI, Libya — When Delta Force commandos homed in on suspected terrorist Abu Anas al-Liby in a neighborhood of Tripoli this weekend, they found him settled with his wife and four children in his family’s traditional home after nearly three decades on the move.
According to one son, Abdullah al-Ruqai, 20, they were enjoying being in that home together for the first time in their lives, acquainting themselves with uncles, aunts, and cousins who all live in the same middle-class neighborhood, Noflieen, in the northeast of the capital near the sea.
It was a short period of calm for Ruqai after a lifetime of following his father, a native of Libya who pulled his wife, four sons, and a daughter through war zones and repeated flight, passing through at least six countries over 20 years.
On Saturday, Abu Anas was seized by the United States during a raid in which three vehicles carrying armed men in masks converged on his car, broke the window, and hustled him away.
To the United States, Abu Anas — born Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai — is an Al Qaeda computer specialist who helped conduct surveillance on the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, ahead of the 1998 bombings there and in Tanzania that killed more than 200 people.
He was indicted in 2000 in those attacks, as well as for conspiring with Osama bin Laden to attack American forces in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Somalia.
Abus Anas is now being interrogated while in military custody on a Navy ship in the Mediterranean Sea, officials said.
A team of military, intelligence, and Justice Department interrogators has been sent to the USS San Antonio to question Abu Anas, the Associated Press reported, citing two unidentified law enforcement officials. He is being held under the laws of war, which means a person can be captured and held indefinitely as an enemy combatant, one of the officials said.
It was unclear Monday when Abu Anas would be brought to the United States to face trial or whether there would be additional charges. President Obama’s policy is to prosecute terrorism suspects in US civilian courts.
Abu Anas had joined the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s while a young man. After the war, he was part of a group of fighters from Libya who formed a movement, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. In 1993 he moved to Sudan, where bin Laden also settled. It was during this period that Abu Anas is suspected of having conducted the reconnaissance on the US Embassy in Nairobi.
Ruqai, who was born in Sudan in 1993, said that his father had no choice but to live there. He was exiled from Libya, and Sudan was the only place that would accept the family. When bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in 1996, Abu Anas moved his family to Britain and received asylum as a political dissident.
Ruqai and his mother say his affiliation with Al Qaeda ended. The family settled in the northern town of Manchester, and Abu Anas worked in a pizza business.
After the 1998 embassy bombings, Abu Anas came under investigation by British authorities, who eventually found an 18-chapter terrorist training manual in his apartment. In 1999, the family headed to Afghanistan, where the Taliban were in power.
They settled in Kabul, but the 2001 terrorist attacks sent them on the move again. After some months in Pakistan, they headed to Iran. But at the time, Iran was reaching out to the United States and collaborating on intelligence in Afghanistan, leading to the detention of the entire family by Iranian intelligence, Ruqai said.
Members of bin Laden’s family and others considered possible Al Qaeda supporters were also detained.
After nearly a decade in Iranian custody, the women and children were eventually allowed to leave. Their Iranian captors handed them to traffickers who smuggled them into Turkey.
“They did not want to show that they had our group in custody,” Ruqai said. “They handed us to human traffickers and we crossed the mountains on foot, just the women and children. It was very difficult. My sister was just 10 years old.”
From there, they returned to Tripoli. Abu Anas’s eldest son, Abdul Rahman, followed in his footsteps, joining the rebels. He was killed in 2011, during the fall of Tripoli.
When Abu Anas reunited with his wife and children, after the rebellion, he knew he was still a wanted man, Ruqai said. “He gathered us around and said he suspected that at any moment he would be killed,” he recalled. “He tried to raise each of us to be responsible for the family. He taught us to work for our living.”