A Libyan Al-Qaeda suspect captured by US troops in Tripoli last year told a US court Wednesday that he had been on hunger strike when questioned by FBI agents.
Abu Anas al-Libi, 50, took the stand Wednesday for the first time in a US court as he seeks to suppress an incriminating statement he gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation while being flown to New York last year.
His hunger strike revelation could question the extent to which he was cognizant when he waived his rights and spoke to the FBI without a lawyer on a flight to the United States on October 12, 2013.
Libi is to go on trial November 3 on conspiracy charges over the 1998 Al-Qaeda bombings of US embassies in East Africa that killed 244 people and wounded more than 5,000 others. He has pleaded not guilty.
The computer expert had been on the FBI’s most wanted list with a $5-million price on his head until his October 2013 capture.
Looking pale and thin, and speaking very quietly through a translator, Libi told a federal court in Manhattan that he told “anyone who asked” that he was on hunger strike.
He did not say when his hunger strike began, and could not say how many days he had gone without food because he had “no watch.”
He was detained by US commandos on October 5, 2013 and interrogated on board a US warship before being handed over to FBI agents on October 12.
Libi compared his treatment by US authorities to the former Libyan regime, which was brought down by a 2011 rebel uprising supported by NATO air strikes.
“I was arrested by the Libyan regime, and I did not find any difference between the treatment by the Libyan regime and here,” he told the court.
It was “the same method,” he said but added: “here, at least they had the dignity not to hit me.”
Throughout much of his 30 minutes on the stand, his voice was inaudible in the wider court, he gesticulated crossly, frequently said he did not understand questions and at times contradicted himself.
“It’s very difficult for me to concentrate,” he said.
-Hooked up to IV-
Libi is understood to be in poor health and suffers from hepatitis C, a condition of the liver.
Criminal investigator George Corey told the court that Libi informed him he was on hunger strike during the flight but that the defendant had been hooked up to an IV.
Corey said Libi appeared tired but was responsive, understood his rights, knowingly waived them and spoke willingly, and at no point appeared confused.
He said they took repeated breaks to allow Libi to rest, pray and receive medical attention, and that the defendant slept for the final part of the flight.
Libi was admitted to hospital upon arrival in the United States and the next day Corey was informed that the defendant was eating and that he also wished to consult a lawyer.
Libi has moved to suppress the statement he gave to the FBI during the flight in order for it not to be admitted at trial.
US prosecutors said he spoke to agents after waiving his rights. When he asked for a lawyer the next day, questioning stopped, they said.
Libi pleads not guilty to charges that he conspired to murder, kidnap, maim, kill, destroy property and attack US defense buildings.
Corey said he saw Libi being removed from a helicopter in a hospital gurney, placed on a stretcher and wheeled to the plane taking him to New York.
He said Libi sat in a reclining seat on board, which he likened to a “first-class seat” in an area “set up like a medical unit” with IV poles and at least one doctor and a nurse.
Corey said Libi was covered in a blanket for most of the flight because he complained of being cold, while he sat on a black crate during the questioning.
Libi is due to be tried jointly with British suspect Khalid al-Fawwaz indicted on the same charges. Another suspect, Adel Abdel Bary, pleaded guilty last month.
Judge Lewis Kaplan deferred a decision on suppressing the statement and adjourned the court.