Federal judge confirms Libya is paying legal fees for embassy bombing suspect

A federal judge in New York disclosed Monday that the Libyan government is paying the legal fees for a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist accused of involvement in the bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998.

The Washington Post, citing unnamed U.S. officials, reported in February that the Libyan government was paying the defense attorney for Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, but neither the authorities in Tripoli nor the lawyer would confirm the arrangement.

After a closed hearing last week, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan decided to unseal the information. He also revealed the identities of individuals assisting Ruqai on behalf of the Libyan government.

Bernard Kleinman, Ruqai’s attorney, had asked the court to keep the information under seal, citing the wishes of the Libyan government, but prosecutors objected. The New York Times opposed continued secrecy, in a filing with the court.

Kleinman later dropped his objection, in a letter submitted to the court Monday, but urged the judge to keep private the names of people who acted as his liaisons with the Libyan government.


The Libyan government is paying legal fees for suspected al-Qaeda terrorist Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, who is accused of being involved in bombing two U.S. embassies in 1998. (Handout/Getty Images)

Kaplan decided otherwise. “While the court understands and sympathizes with their preference to remain anonymous to the public, that preference does not outweigh the public interest in disclosure,” he said in his ruling.

Kleinman said in his letter that he had notified the State Department months ago that Libya was paying his client’s legal bills.

Ruqai was captured in October in a joint military-FBI raid in Tripoli after leaving Iran, where he had been detained for years. He was interrogated on a U.S. warship and later moved to New York, where he was indicted for his alleged role in the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Kleinman said his client did not participate in the attacks.

Kleinman revealed in a court document this month that his client is terminally ill.

Ruqai is known to have chronic hepatitis C, which can lead to liver cancer. In interviews, members of his family said they feared he would die before they had a chance to see him again. They also raised the prospect that he has liver cancer.

In late March, Ruqai was moved from New York to a Federal Bureau of Prisons medical center in Butner, N.C., because of his condition, according to court records.

Ruqai is scheduled to go on trial in Manhattan later this year with two other suspects in the bombings. It is unclear whether Kaplan will order him tried separately because of his illness.

Adam Goldman reports on terrorism and national security for The Washington Post.
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