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Judge scrutinizes US embassy bomb suspect defense

August 14, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — A terror suspect’s legal defense, underwritten by the Libyan government, is getting scrutiny from a federal judge who advised him Thursday to consider the possibility of conflicting interests in a case involving al-Qaida’s deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Abu Anas al-Libi, a 50-year-old Libyan citizen, agreed to take the judge’s advice of consulting another lawyer, though al-Libi said he didn’t sense any actual conflict. He is due to say next month whether he’d like to stay with his attorney, Bernard Kleinman, who says the Libyan government has financed the defense but hasn’t steered it.

A message left with the Libyan Embassy in Washington wasn’t immediately returned. Prosecutors declined to comment.

Also known as Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, al-Libi has pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired in simultaneous attacks on embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans. His family and former associates have denied he was ever a member of al-Qaida.

Al-Libi was once on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists. He was grabbed off the streets of Tripoli in October in a U.S. raid that the Libyan government called a “kidnapping.”

It’s legal for a third party to pay for someone’s defense in a criminal case, as long as courts are satisfied that the attorney’s loyalties aren’t divided and that the defendant understands there could be a potential for conflict.

Al-Libi said his family had been involved in choosing his lawyer and arranging for the Libyan government to pay him. The defendant, who had been an activist opposed to former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, said he didn’t believe there was “any conflict between my interest and the interest of the Libyan state since the fall of Gadhafi.”

But U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan pointed to a New York Times report in October that, citing unnamed senior American officials, said the Libyan government had tacitly approved the commando raid in which he was captured, despite Tripoli’s public denunciations of the operation.

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