NEW YORK -- The terrorism suspect who had been undergoing interrogation on a Navy ship after his recent capture in Libya was brought to New York City over the weekend and was to be presented before a federal judicial officer today, officials said.
The decision to bring the suspect, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, to New York came after he stopped eating and drinking aboard the USS San Antonio, exacerbating his chronic health conditions, several officials said. Mr. Ruqai's wife has said her husband has a severe case of hepatitis C.
Mr. Ruqai, 49, was formally arrested and taken into Justice Department custody after he left the San Antonio and before he arrived in the United States late Saturday, officials said. Upon his arrival, he was taken to a medical facility, they said, and his condition has improved.
In 2000, Mr. Ruqai was indicted in Manhattan on charges that he conspired with Osama bin Laden in plots to attack U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia, as well as in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa that killed 224 people.
His capture this month was seen as a potential intelligence coup because he had been on the run for years and so would, presumably, possess information about al-Qaida from its earliest days through its contemporary, more scattered state.
Officials said Mr. Ruqai, known by his nom de guerre Abu Anas al-Libi, had been cooperating with the interrogation since his capture Oct. 5, and that the decision to move him into the criminal justice system would not prevent prosecutors from seeking additional cooperation. But when he appears in U.S. District Court today, he will be appointed a lawyer, through whom the government will have to work if it wants to communicate further with him.
Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced Mr. Ruqai's arrival in Manhattan in a brief statement Monday. Prosecutors under Mr. Bharara also wrote to Judge Lewis Kaplan, who has been overseeing the conspiracy cases in which Mr. Ruqai and other terrorism defendants have been charged, notifying him of the arrest and of Mr. Ruqai's coming court appearance.
The developments regarding Mr. Ruqai led to further debate Monday about where terrorism cases are best handled.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said the decision to move Mr. Ruqai into the civilian court system, rather than send him to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, showed that "the United States acts out of strength and not out of fear."
"We are not afraid of terrorists, nor are we afraid to bring them to justice in our courts," Mr. Leahy said. "The indefinite detention of al-Libi at Guantanamo would have been unnecessary and unwise."
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a House Intelligence Committee member, said he did not doubt the government's explanation of the sudden turn of events involving a prized al-Qaida suspect, and that it underscored his criticism of the Obama administration for not transferring Mr. Ruqai to Guantanamo immediately after he was seized.
In a phone interview, Mr. King said Mr. Ruqai's move to a medical facility because of "some pre-existing condition" dispelled any notion that he had been injured in the raid in which he was captured in Tripoli, Libya, or during his interrogation aboard the San Antonio. But if his transfer into civilian custody means that Mr. Ruqai's cooperation will now end, Mr. King said, that would amount to a major lost opportunity to obtain valuable intelligence.
"He was close to the top and an integral part of the al-Qaida operation," Mr. King said. "After so much effort to take him alive, this is very unfortunate."
Details of the interrogation and of Mr. Ruqai's statements are unknown. At first, when he was taken aboard the San Antonio, he ate and drank the provisions that were given to him, officials said. But as his health worsened in recent days, military doctors recommended that he be taken to a land-based facility for better treatment.
Mr. Ruqai's 20-year-old son, Abdullah, said in an interview the day after Mr. Ruqai was captured that he was concerned that his father was sick.
First Published October 14, 2013 8:00 PM