A federal judge in New York on Friday declined to assign a court-appointed attorney to Abu Anas al-Liby, the senior al Qaeda figure captured in Libya last weekend, saying it was premature because he has apparently not yet been formally arrested.
Al-Liby, whose real name is Nazih al-Ragye, faces federal charges in New York for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 civilians.
Since his capture in Libya, he has been held aboard a Navy ship in the Mediterranean where an elite team of American interrogators is questioning him.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected a request from the Federal Defenders of New York, which represents indigent federal defendants, to appoint a defense lawyer.
"The government denies that any federal criminal arrest has taken place, and there is no evidence to the contrary," wrote Kaplan, whose docket includes the al-Liby indictment. Even if an arrest is made, he said, the proper time to appoint counsel would be upon the first court appearance.
U.S. officials have not said whether they plan to bring al-Liby to New York to face trial in civilian court, as opposed to a military proceeding.
A law enforcement source said on Friday that authorities in New York had not been given any notice about when, or if, al-Liby might be brought to the city. Other U.S. officials said on Thursday that al-Liby would remain under questioning offshore for some time.
In his brief order, Kaplan noted that the Federal Defenders may have concerns about the legality of al-Liby's current detention, but said that issue is outside his jurisdiction. Experts have said there are few legal restrictions on how long the United States can hold al-Liby aboard the ship.