However, it was unclear whether the 49-year-old al-Libi had a major role in the terror organization — his alleged role in the 1998 attack was to scout one of the targeted embassies — and there was no immediate word that he had been involved in militant activities in Libya. His family and former associates denied he was ever a member of al-Qaida and said he had not been engaged in any activities since coming home in 2011.
But the raid signaled a U.S. readiness to take action against militants in Libya, where al-Qaida and other armed Islamic groups have gained an increasingly powerful foothold since the 2011 ouster and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi and have set up tied with a belt of radical groups across North Africa and Egypt.
Libya’s central government remains weak, and armed militias — many of them made up of Islamic militants — hold sway in many places around the country, including in parts of the capital. Amid the turmoil, Libyan authorities have been unable to move against militants, including those behind the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed. Libyan security officials themselves are regularly targeted by gunmen. The latest victim, a military colonel, was gunned down in Benghazi on Sunday.
Several dozen members of the Islamic group Ansar al-Sharia, which has links to militias, protested on Sunday in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, denouncing al-Libi’s abduction and criticizing the government. “Where are the men of Tripoli while this is happening?” they chanted, waving black Islamist flags.
Al-Libi’s capture was a bold strike in the Libyan capital. He had just parked his car outside his Tripoli home, returning from dawn prayers Saturday, when 10 commandos in multiple vehicles surrounded him, his brother Nabih al-Ruqai told the Associated Press. They smashed his car’s window and seized his gun before grabbing al-Libi and fleeing.