Terrorism is the word that dominates the International scene since the September 11th attacks on the United States. The War on Terror, Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and various attacks on Western democracies after 9/11 are topics most international citizens are aware of. The biggest part of global fight on terror is what to do with suspected terrorists that are caught. It is a very contentious issue between civil and human rights advocates and Governments. Usually, when a terror suspect is rounded up by either U.S. forces or the forces of U.S allies, they are taken into U.S. custody and not the custody of the nation in which they are captured.
The question now is should the U.S. always get first priority on terror suspects taking into custody in other nations even when that nation wants them tried under their laws? This is the “tug” of war that will be played out by the United States and Libya after the United States carried out an operation and captured Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, or known by his alias, Anas al-Libi.
Al-Ruqai is a Libyan citizen and according to Libyan officials, they were not consulted by the United States before they carried out the operation in the capital of Tripoli. The citizens of Libya were particularly angry that the United States violated Libyan sovereignty and at their government for at the very least turning a blind eye to the raid. The newly elected government has to walk a line between criticizing the U.S., which assisted in the 2011 revolution against Gaddafi and holding onto the little control they have in the country. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said, “We emphasize that Libyan citizens should be judged in Libya and Libya does not surrender its sons.” –CBS. Other government officials have commented on the raid calling it a “kidnapping”.
The United States has a keen interest in Al-Ruqai. He is alleged to be a senior member of Al-Qaeda and is connected to the twin African bombings in 1998 that killed a total of 223 people and injured more than 4,000 in simultaneous attacks on U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. He was indicted in New York for these crimes in 2000. The United States had a 5 million dollar bounty on Al-Ruqai ever since then.
Libya and the United States have a strategic partnership in which the U.S. is helping the Libyan Government increase its power to deal with terrorists. However, since the death of Moammar Gaddafi in the 2011 revolution, the Libyan Governments has little centralized power creating vacuums for armed militias. The U.S. is holding Al-Ruqai on a Naval warship and most likely wants to try him in the U.S. for violating federal law in the ’98 attacks but also could perceive the little power the Libyan Government has as a liability for not getting fully prosecuted. An example of this worry would be the attack on the U.S. Embassy on September 11th, 2012 in Benghazi. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said of complaints, “the suspect was a “legal and appropriate target” for the U.S. military and will face justice in a court of law.”
For Libyans there could be some hope in this situation. In July, a Dutch court blocked the extradition of a Dutch-Pakistani terror suspect to the United States, proving that there can be limits on the United States’ reach into other nations. However, this was a situation where a U.S. ally (Pakistan) arrested the suspect and was not captured as a result of a U.S. raid.
Should the U.S. policies continue that allows military operations in nations for high profile terrorists like Al-Ruqai? Or should he be tried in Libya as a Libyan citizen as a way to show that the Libyan Government has some control and authority post-Gaddafi? Is there a threat to the concept of sovereignty in the post 9/11 world or can there be a practical solution that severs all parties’ interests?