UPDATE 1-Qaeda suspect's shipboard fast, poor health halted U.S. interrogation

Reuters

(Adds "alleged" in lead paragraph to make clear he has not beenconvicted)

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON Oct 15 (Reuters) - An elite U.S. interrogationteam gave up questioning an alleged al-Qaeda militant who wassnatched in Libya after he stopped eating and drinkingregularly, exacerbating pre-existing health problems, U.S.officials familiar with the matter said.

One official said that U.S. interrogators had little successin extracting intelligence from the suspect, known as Abu Anasal-Liby, before they stopped questioning him while he wasdetained on board a U.S. Navy ship.

Al-Liby, whose real name is Nazih al-Ragye, pleaded notguilty in a federal court in New York on Tuesday to involvementin the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, which killedmore than 200 people.

A Delta Force special team snatched him in Tripoli earlierthis month and he was taken to the USS San Antonio in theMediterranean Sea for questioning.

As his health deteriorated, U.S. authorities decided to flyal-Liby to New York last weekend, where he was taken to ahospital. After two nights in-patient treatment, he was releasedto judicial authorities.

Upon arrival in the United States, al-Liby became subject tothe rules of the civilian American court system. That means hecan no longer be interrogated without being advised of hisconstitutional right to avoid incriminating himself.

Last week, U.S. officials said one of the main reasons commandos staged a risky raid to capture al-Liby was so theUnited States could gather intelligence from the former senioroperative of the core al Qaeda organization founded by Osama binLaden.

An interagency team created by the administration ofPresident Barack Obama, the High-Value Detainee InterrogationGroup (HIG) was deployed to the Navy ship.

At the time of his capture, U.S. officials said the plan wasto keep al-Liby on board the ship for weeks so the HIG couldextract as much intelligence as possible about al Qaeda plans,personnel and operations.

"Why did we get him if not to make him talk," said one U.S.official, who confirmed that initial indications were that theinterrogation of al-Liby had produced few results.

HEPATITIS C

Officials who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitiveinformation said that al-Liby, whose family has said he sufferedfrom Hepatitis C, stopped eating and drinking regularly once onboard the ship.

One U.S. official described al-Liby's fasting as "willful,"and a second official said he might have been avoiding food anddrink for religious reasons, rather than as a protest. He wasalso suffering from other, unspecified health problems.

U.S. officials said al-Liby remained a significant figure inal Qaeda. He served as a liaison between militant groups inLibya and North Africa and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptianphysician who now leads what remains of al Qaeda's coreorganization based in Pakistan, U.S. officials say.

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on NewYork and Washington, the U.S. government offered a $25 millionreward for information leading to al-Liby's capture. Later,however, the reward was reduced to $5 million.

Some U.S. officials and counter-terrorism experts say the 80percent drop in the price on his head raised questions about howbig a role he recently played in Qaeda activities.

A former senior CIA analyst, Paul Pillar, said the principalaim of capturing al-Liby was likely not intelligence gathering.

"The apprehension of al-Liby is not a matter of neutralizingany current threat but instead of seeing justice done to anyoneinvolved in any aspect of the bombings of U.S. embassies in1998," he said.

Last year, a Pentagon counter-terrorism unit, in partnershipwith the Library of Congress' Congressional Research Service,described al-Liby in a report as an "al Qaeda trainedintelligence specialist" who had been tasked by al-Zawahiri tocreate and al Qaeda network in Libya.

It added that al-Liby is "most likely involved in al Qaedastrategic planning and coordination" between what remains of thegroup's top leadership and Libyan Islamist militias.

However, U.S. criminal charges against al-Liby relate to anevent which occurred 15 years ago: the al Qaeda bombings of U.S.embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Court records indicate U.S.evidence regarding al-Liby's role in the bombing largely relatesto actions he took 20 years ago.

In the months before Sept. 11, 2001, federal prosecutors inManhattan put on trial a handful of suspects indicted andcaptured in connection with the 1998 Embassy bombings.

The principal government witness who testified about thealleged role of al-Liby in the bombing conspiracy was a Moroccanal Qaeda recruit named L'Houssaine Kerchtou.

Kerchtou, who joined the U.S. witness protection program,described in court how al-Liby once had instructed al Qaedarecruits on computer usage at training camps in theAfghan-Pakistan border region.

According to Kerchtou's testimony, around 1993, Al-Liby wasobserved taking pictures of buildings near the American Embassyin Nairobi which was bombed five years later.

Not long after the picture-taking allegedly occurred,however, al-Liby and his family moved to Britain, where, in a raid on his apartment in Manchester in 2000, police found whatwas described as a military training manual for militants.

By the time of that raid, however, al-Liby had already leftBritain. Some time after Sept. 11, 2001, he turned up in Iran.In an interview with the Daily Beast website, relatives claimedhe spent years in prison there, before making his way back tohis native Libya around the time Libyans began an uprising whichousted longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. (Editing By Alistair Bell)

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