A haggard and grim-faced Anas al-Liby, the alleged al-Qaida operative captured in Tripoli Oct. 5 in a U.S. Special Forces raid, pleaded not guilty Tuesday in a heavily guarded federal courtroom in Manhattan to conspiring to bomb two U.S. embassies in 1998.
In an understated scene reminiscent of previous terror cases in the same courthouse, al-Liby shuffled in and out of court in handcuffs wearing a black sweatshirt, gray sweatpants and clogs. He offered only a few perfunctory responses in Arabic as he leaned into a microphone sitting next to his Koran.
He told U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan he couldn't afford to pay a lawyer. He left it to a court-appointed lawyer to enter the not guilty plea. His longest answer came when he told the judge to address him by his proper name rather than al-Liby, his al-Qaida nom de guerre.
"Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai," he told Kaplan, who proceeded to address him as "Mr. al-Ruqai."
The bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania took 224 lives, including 12 Americans. al-Liby, a fugitive since then, is one of 22 defendants named in an indictment first returned in 1998, including many who have been convicted or, like Osama bin Laden, killed.
The indictment says he surveilled the embassy in Nairobi and discussed the plot with other al-Qaida operatives as early as 1993. In a 2000 raid of his apartment in Manchester, England, authorities found an al-Qaida terrorism manual on his computer that was used in later trials.
In a statement issued after yesterday's hearing, however, al-Liby's court-appointed lawyer David Patton minimized the accusations relating to his client.
"In a 150 page indictment Mr. al-Ruqai is mentioned in a mere three paragraphs relating to conduct in 1993 and 1994 and nothing since," Patton said. "The allegation is that he met with al-Qaida members about a possible bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, that ended up taking place five years later in 1998."
"There is no allegation that he had any connection to al-Qaida after 1994, and he is eager to move forward with the legal process," he added.
Since his capture on Oct. 5, officials say, al-Liby has been interrogated on a Navy ship. He was transferred to civilian custody and moved to New York on Oct. 12 because he wasn't eating or drinking, according to published reports.
Pictures of al-Liby distributed over the past decade show a youthful man with a neatly-trimmed black beard. In court, however, al-Liby, now 49, was stooped and gaunt with a scraggly white-and-red tinted beard.
Kaplan ordered him detained pending trial, but signed a medical order at the request of his lawyers, who said he needs to see a doctor because is suffering from hepatitis C and has pain and swollen limbs.
Prosecutors told Kaplan the six conspiracy counts against al-Liby do not carry the death penalty. The judge set the next hearing for Oct. 22.