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Abu Anas at Sea: Alleged al Qaeda Operative Held in Detention

In 2000, Abu Anas, born Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, was indicted in Manhattan for alleged conspiracy with Osama Bin Laden in his plot to attack United States forces in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia. According to the FBI, Anas was also indicted in the Southern District of New York for his alleged involvement in U.S. Embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, on August 7, 1998, placing Anas on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list. The alleged al Qaeda operative was seized by U.S. commandos in Libya and is currently being held in military custody aboard the U.S.S. San Antonio in the Mediterranean Sea, questioned for intelligence purposes, after which he will be sent back to New York for criminal prosecution.

There has been a successful history of terrorist suspects being held for intelligence purposes without a lawyer present in order to gain information before being Mirandized and returned to be criminally prosecuted, a technique used by the Obama administration. Most notably was the capture of Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, the former military commander of a Somali terrorist group, al Shabaab and a weapons broker. Warsame was captured and held on a Navy ship for two months without a lawyer present and without being advised of his Miranda rights; but once he was advised of his rights, he proceeded to waive them during questioning before being sent to Manhattan for prosecution. Since that time, Warsame has pled guilty and has aided the government with intelligence on co-conspirators.

However, unlike Warsame, Abu Anas has a previous indictment hanging over his head from 2000, more than one decade earlier, in New York and this may affect the course of proceedings. Under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 5, “a person making an arrest outside of the United States must take the defendant without unnecessary delay before a magistrate judge, unless a statute provides otherwise.”  This would mean that upon his capture and detention, Anas should have been removed to the United States and brought before a magistrate of the federal court. Given the United States government has failed to bring Anas forward, there is a likelihood that information obtained from Anas during his time aboard the U.S.S. San Antonio will be held inadmissible in court when he is finally brought back to the United States for criminal proceedings, which some lawyers believe judges should uphold.  Nonetheless, judges have historically not done much by way of holding the government accountable for their delays in bringing suspected terrorists, in situations similar to Anas, forward for criminal prosecution in a timely manner. There is an FBI directive, that was endorsed by the Office of the Attorney General, stating that “presentment of an arrestee should not be delayed simply to continue interrogation, unless the arrestee has waived prompt presentment,” though it appears to be applicable only to interrogations within the United States.

While the federal court judge, who will eventually have Anas presented before him, may or may not deem information gleaned from the interrogation at sea admissible, without Anas’ Miranda Rights being read or a lawyer present, there is still plenty of evidence to convict him from the first indictment in 2000. During the initial arrest, British police found and seized a ‘do it yourself’ manual named the “Manchester Manual,” which detailed terrorist training methods.  Furthermore, at the time of the indictment there were two cooperating witnesses, both former al Qaeda insiders, who implicated Anas and might do so again.  The first of the two witnesses, termed US’s Confidential Source No. 1, stated that Anas was a computer engineer and was in charge of al Qaeda’s computers. The second of the witnesses, no name given, confirmed Anas’ computer duties, and that at one point Anas and others had set up a makeshift darkroom for developing pictures in the witness’ Nairobi apartment, and that the witness once met Anas, who had a camera, on the same street as the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

While some, if not all, of the statements made during the interrogation at sea may be deemed inadmissible, and thus thrown out as evidence, there seems to be more than enough evidence from the 2000 indictment in the Southern District of New York to ensure a trial occurs. Only time will tell as events continue to unfold, but for now, Abu Anas is to be held aboard the U.S.S. San Antonio until further notice for interrogation.

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