For Americans, he is a monster, a major al-Qaeda leader who had a hand in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 224 civilians and—until U.S. Special Forces snatched him off the streets of Tripoli last week—a veteran terrorist tasked with uniting jihadists not just in Libya but across the arc of North Africa.
Sitting down, though, with his wife of 22 years and three sons in their cramped apartment, on the elevated ground floor of a small apartment building in a middle-class district in the Libyan capital on Saturday evening, I heard a different story that didn't fit the bogeyman portrait drawn by American officials.
And it is one that prompts the question: has the U.S. got the right man?
For his family, Abu Anas al-Liby, to use his nom de guerre, is an easy-going husband and kind, playful father who, just days before a Delta Force team grabbed and bundled the 49-year-old out of Libya, told his oldest son, Abdullah, that he was looking forward to becoming a grandfather.
For them, he is a Libyan patriot who sacrificed a great deal. His commitment to the ousting of Libya’s longtime dictator, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, required them all to suffer, including several years of imprisonment in poor conditions in Iran after the family fled Afghanistan. They say they endured harassment and surveillance in Britain, where they sought political asylum and lived from 1997 to 2000.