Anas al-Libi was captured Oct. 5 in Tripoli, Libya.
WASHINGTON - The al-Qaeda leader nabbed in Libya last weekend is in a position to provide U.S. authorities with a valuable insider look at the militant group's operations in Africa, a growing worry for Western governments.
"He can give us a lot of intelligence," said Rick Nelson, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Abu Anas al-Libi, who was captured in a daring U.S. commando raid over the weekend, straddles the generations. He dates to the earliest days of al-Qaeda but is also familiar with the recent growth of al-Qaeda linked groups in north and east Africa.
"He goes back to the original core of al-Qaeda," said Daniel Benjamin, director of Dartmouth's Dickey Center for International Understanding who was a top State Department counterterrorism official.
Analysts are unsure of the level of his operational involvement in the growing activity of extremist groups in North Africa, but say he would be able to provide insight into the networks at a minimum.
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"He is a single point of information but he would be quite useful," said Seth Jones, an analyst at RAND Corp. and Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qa'ida after 9/11.
Jones said he would be able to provide information about regional networks and any ties they may have to al-Qaeda central in the mountains of Pakistan.
Still, some officials remain skeptical of al-Libi's intelligence value. Al-Libi was in Afghanistan when the Taliban fell after 2001 and fled to Iran with a group of al-Qaeda leaders who were granted refuge there.
The group was held under virtual house arrest while in Iran and al-Libi would have had little contact with al-Qaeda operations during that time, said a Pentagon official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak about the capture. Iran's Shiite government is suspicious of al-Qaeda, a mainly Sunni group.
Al-Libi returned to his home country sometime after the collapse of the regime of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Militant groups have surfaced among the post-regime instability. "He's Libyan, going home is no surprise," Benjamin said.
Al-Libi was never an operational leader in al-Qaeda, but was a computer operations expert, a critical role for the group, which relied on networks for communicating, raising money and spreading their message.
He has been indicted by U.S. authorities for the 1998 attacks in Kenya and Tanzania and is expected to face criminal charges in the United States. Al-Libi is currently being detained on a the USS San Antonio, a Navy ship.
Under cases like this, the United States is able to interrogate suspects for intelligence purposes prior to providing the Miranda warning, said attorney Lee Alan Ginsburg, who represented Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali citizen who was captured in 2011 and was charged with supporting al-Qaeda.
The information gleaned in the initial interrogation can be used for intelligence purposes, but it is not admissible in court. Afterwards, law enforcement agents will read the suspect his Miranda rights, which include the right to remain silent, and the information used in that questioning can be used in court.
Suspects in similar situations sometimes voluntarily give up information, analysts say. "At the end of the day quite a lot of them do talk," Benjamin said.
Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook