The wife of an accused al Qaeda operative captured by U.S. forces told CNN that masked men ambushed her husband when he was on the way home from morning prayers.
While U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Abu Anas al Libi "one of the world's most wanted terrorists," al Libi's wife described him a different way in an exclusive interview with CNN on Sunday.
Umm Abdul Rahman called al Libi an innocent man, adding that he left al Qaeda in 1996 and had no connection to the twin 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
"I am sure of what I am saying -- he did not take part in any bombing anywhere in the world," Rahman said. "He participated in the jihad in Afghanistan. .... He was a member of al-Qaeda and he was personal security for (Osama) bin Laden -- that's true -- but he did not take part in any operation."
Al Libi was among those indicted for the embassy attacks by a federal grand jury in New York, and U.S. officials and terrorism analysts hailed news of his capture.
Meanwhile, Libya's interim government distanced itself from the operation and called the U.S. capture a kidnapping.
Rahman told CNN she didn't know who had taken her husband -- only that the raid she watched happen from her Tripoli home happened very quickly.
Al Libi was returning to his house at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday (12:30 a.m. ET) when a group of at least 10 men in four vehicles surprised him, his wife told CNN. Some of the men were wearing masks, while others weren't, she said. Those men looked like Libyans to her and they spoke Arabic with Libyan accents, she said.
"What I saw were Libyans. Maybe they had Americans with them, but I didn't see them because there was more than one car. They say there were 10 people involved, but I believe there were more than 10," Rahman said. "I couldn't count them because there were many of them. I can't confirm if they were Americans or not, but what I saw were Libyans. "
Elite team involved in capture
On Sunday, a U.S. official said commandos from the elite U.S. Army Delta Force had snatched the 49-year-old al Qaeda operative.
Tripoli has requested an explanation from Washington about the raid, the country's state news agency reported Sunday.
The mission was conducted with the knowledge of the Libyan government, said one U.S. official. The Pentagon said the U.S. military was holding al Libi in a "secure location" outside Libya. A U.S. official told CNN that he was taken to a U.S. Navy warship after his capture.
"It's a masterpiece how someone can craft such an operation," said Libyan counterterrorism analyst Noman Benotman, who is also a former jihadist associate of al Libi.
Benotman is president of the Quilliam Foundation, a London-based counterterrorism think tank. He is also a former senior member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which al Libi joined in the mid-1990s before gravitating back toward al Qaeda.
Al Libi had been living in that still unsettled nation, more or less in the open, for more than a year despite his alleged associations. According to Benotman, it is unlikely he was still playing an active role for al Qaeda.
His wife agreed, saying he was living a normal life, was not in hiding and had reapplied for a job with the oil ministry.
She said he has a severe case of hepatitis C and she worries about his health.
Next stop, New York?
Al Libi has been all around the globe -- Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Kenya, Britain, Iran and beyond -- making friends with some of the world's most notorious terrorists and enemies with the United States and its allies.
On Saturday, his odyssey ended where it began: in his homeland of Libya.
His next destination? He eventually will be taken to New York, a source with knowledge of the capture and proceedings told CNN, though the exact timing is unclear.
The Obama administration has activated the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group to interview him for intelligence purposes while he remains in U.S. military custody, U.S. officials told CNN. The team is led by the FBI and includes CIA and other intelligence agencies. After the interviews are concluded, he would be transferred to civilian custody and brought to New York to face federal charges, the officials said.
U.S. authorities have long wanted al Libi to stand trial in an American court to face charges for his alleged role in the U.S. embassy bombings that left well over 200 dead and thousands wounded.
Edith Bartley lost both her father, Julian Bartley, and her brother, Julian Jr., in the attack in Nairobi, Kenya. Her father was the U.S. Embassy's counsel general; her 20-year-old brother was an intern there.