By Victoria Cavaliere
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Malian national pleaded not guilty in a New York federal court on Thursday to charges of assassinating an American diplomat in the Republic of Niger in Western Africa and attempting to kill a U.S. Marine who tried to intervene.
The government of Mali extradited Alhassane Ould Mohamed, 43, to New York this week to face charges in the 13-year-old case.
Wearing a blue prison jumpsuit, the bearded Mohamed, also known as "Cheibani," entered his not guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn with the help of a court-appointed attorney and an Arabic interpreter.
Mohamed was charged with murder and attempted murder in connection with the fatal carjacking of Department of Defense official William Bultemeier as he left a restaurant in Niamey, Niger, on December 23, 2000. Mohamed and another assailant, armed with a pistol and AK-47 assault rifle, demanded that Bultemeier hand over the keys to his sport utility vehicle, which bore U.S. diplomatic plates, the indictment said.
Bultemeier attempted to comply, but was shot by the assailant holding the pistol, the indictment said. U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant Christopher McNeely saw the incident and tried to intervene when both U.S. personnel were shot with the AK-47, the U.S. government charged.
Mohamed and his accomplice fled in the stolen car, according to the two-count indictment.
McNeely was wounded and survived.
"An attack on U.S. government personnel, whether domestic or abroad, is an attack on the United States," FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said in a statement. "This case should send a clear message to all fugitives: The U.S. Government will not rest until they are brought to justice for their crimes."
A judge on Thursday ordered Mohamed held without bail, saying he was a flight risk as well as a danger to the community.
A U.S. government attorney said Mohamed had previous successful prison breaks in Africa, including one in Niger where he was serving a 20-year sentence for the murder of four Saudi citizens who were traveling with a Saudi prince in 2009.
Mohamed was among 22 prisoners who escaped last year during an attack by suspected Islamist militants.
French soldiers recaptured Mohamed in northern Mali in November 2013, weeks after a U.S. grand jury indicted him on charges of murder and attempted murder.
Mohamed's court-appointed attorney said he may, at a later date, ask the court to reconsider a possible bail package.
A second court hearing was scheduled for April.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)