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Try Al-Libi Before He Croaks, Judge Says

MANHATTAN (CN) - An accused terrorist's terminal liver cancer has put a whole new spin on the speedy-trial clock.

Nazih Abdul Hamed al Ruqai, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Anas al-Libi, has been a wanted man for more than two decades.

He is suspected of having scouted the targets for two U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and wounded thousands in 1998.

After U.S. Delta Force operatives finally snatched al-Libi from a car outside his home in Tripoli, Libya, on Oct. 5, 2013, he faced interrogation aboard a Navy warship on the way to New York for prosecution.

The fact that al-Libi is already dying from liver cancer, however, has shaken up his pretrial proceedings.

Al-Libi appeared at one hearing via a video feed from a medical center in North Carolina, and he was rushed out of court another time after clutching his arm and wincing in pain.

Slated to stand trial with alleged accomplice Khalid al-Fawwad on Jan. 12, 2015, al-Libi says he should be tried separately because of his medical issues.

But U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan found Tuesday that al-Libi's health presents a stronger reason to stay on schedule.

"Al-Libi undoubtedly is seriously ill," the 13-page opinion states. "It is possible that his condition may improve, though the opposite may be more likely."

If al-Libi's condition is "both incurable and terminal," a further delay "may deprive entirely the public of a trial of al Liby on these charges, the magnitude and seriousness of which cannot be overstated," Kaplan added.

"Al-Libi is alleged to have been involved in a conspiracy to kill Americans abroad, resulting in the August 1998 bombings of two United States embassies," Kaplan wrote. "A fugitive for many years, he was apprehended last year and brought to this court. The public clearly has an interest in avoiding any additional delay or total preclusion of a trial on these charges."

Lawyers for co-defendant al-Fawwaz argued that multiple juries are necessary to avoid bias because the case "will be tried in the post-9/11 era."

Kaplan brushed off this concern as a "bare attempt" by al-Fawwaz's lawyers "to increase his chance of acquittal."

"Just as the court will probe during voir dire all prospective jurors' potential exposure to the media coverage of this case, so too will the court examine their possible bias against defendants accused of terrorism offenses," he wrote.

Al-Libi's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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