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Qaeda suspect's shipboard fast brings halt to U.S. interrogation

People wait in line to enter Manhattan's federal court where Nazih al-Ragye, known by the alias Abu Anas al-Liby, is expected for arraignmen
People wait in line to enter Manhattan's federal court where Nazih al-Ragye, known by the alias Abu Anas al-Liby, is expected for arraignmen

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An elite U.S. interrogation team abandoned its questioning of an al-Qaeda militant who was snatched in Libya after he stopped eating and drinking regularly on board a U.S. Navy ship where he was being held, a U.S. official familiar with the matter said.

As his health deteriorated, U.S. authorities decided to fly the suspect known as Abu Anas al-Liby to New York last weekend, where he was taken to a hospital for treatment.

Al-Liby, whose real name is Nazih al-Ragye, was expected to be arraigned in Federal Court in Manhattan on Tuesday on long-standing charges related to the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

Upon arrival in the United States, al-Liby became subject to the rules of the civilian American court system. That means he can no longer be interrogated without being advised of his constitutional right to avoid incriminating himself, the official said.

Last week, U.S. officials said one of the principal reasons U.S. Delta Force commandos staged a risky raid to capture al-Liby at his Tripoli residence was so the United States could gather intelligence from the former senior operative of the core al Qaeda organization founded by Osama bin Laden.

An interagency team created by the administration of President Barack Obama, the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) was deployed to the USS San Antonio, the Navy ship to which al-Liby was taken after being captured earlier this month.

At the time of his capture, U.S. officials said the plan was to keep al Liby on board the ship for weeks so the HIG, which can question detainees without advising them of their U.S. constitutional rights, could extract as much intelligence as possible regarding what he knew about current and past al Qaeda plans, personnel and operations.

However, said the official, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, al-Liby, whose family has said he suffered from Hepatitis C, stopped eating and drinking regularly once on board the ship.

Although al-Liby did not stage a total hunger strike, the official said, his health continued to deteriorate and U.S. officials decided that shipboard medical facilities did not offer adequate care.

It is unclear what intelligence, if any, the interrogators managed to extract from al Liby after his capture.

(Editing By Alistair Bell and Gunna Dickson)

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