MOGADISHU, Somalia // In a stealthy seaside assault in Somalia and in a raid in Libya’s capital, US special forces yesterday struck out against Islamic extremists who have carried out terrorist attacks in East Africa, snatching a Libyan Al Qaeda leader allegedly involved in the bombings of US embassies 15 years ago but aborting a mission to capture a terrorist suspect linked to last month’s Nairobi shopping mall attack after a fierce firefight.
A US Navy SEAL team swam ashore near a town in southern Somalia before militants of the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group Al Shabab rose for dawn prayers, US and Somali officials told The Associated Press. The raid on a house in the town of Barawe targeted a specific Al Qaida suspect related to the mall attack, but the operation did not get its target, one current and one former US military official told AP.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the raid publicly.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman George Little confirmed that US military personnel had been involved in a counterterrorism operation against a known Al Shabab terrorist in Somalia, but did not provide details.
US officials said there were no US casualties in either the Somali or Libyan operation.
The Somali raid was carried out by members of SEAL Team Six, the same unit that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout in 2011, another senior US military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorised to speak publicly.
But this time, SEAL Team Six members encountered fiercer resistance than expected so after a 15-20 minute firefight, the unit leader decided to abort the mission and they swam away, the official said. SEAL Team Six has responsibility for counterterrorism activities in the Horn of Africa.
Within hours of the Somalia attack, the US Army’s Delta Force carried out a raid in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, to seize a Libyan Al Qaeda leader wanted for the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 220 people, the military official said. Delta Force carries out counterterrorism operations in North Africa.
The Pentagon identified the captured Al Qaeda leader as Nazih Abdul-Hamed Al Ruqai, known by his alias Anas Al Libi, who has been on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list since it was introduced shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Al Libi “is currently lawfully detained by the US military in a secure location outside of Libya,” Pentagon spokesman Little said.
Saturday’s raid in Somalia occurred 20 years after the famous “Black Hawk Down” battle in Mogadishu in which a mission to capture Somali warlords in the capital went awry after militiamen shot down two US helicopters. Eighteen US soldiers were killed in the battle, and it marked the beginning of the end of that US military mission to bring stability to the Horn of Africa nation. Since then, US military intervention has been limited to missile attacks and lightning operations by special forces.
A resident of Barawe – a seaside town 240 kilometres south of Mogadishu – said by telephone that heavy gunfire woke up residents before dawn prayers.
The US forces attacked a two-storey beachside house in Barawe where foreign fighters lived, battling their way inside, said an Al Shabab fighter who gave his name as Abu Mohamed and who said he had visited the scene. Al Shabab has a formal alliance with Al Qaeda, and hundreds of men from the US, Britain and Middle Eastern countries fight alongside Somali members of Al Shabab.
A separate US official described the action in Barawe as a capture operation against a high-value target. The official said US forces engaged Al Shabab militants and sought to avoid civilian casualties. The US forces disengaged after inflicting some casualties on fighters, said the official, who was not authorised to speak by name and insisted on anonymity.
The leader of Al Shabab, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Godane, claimed responsibility for the attack on the upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya, a four-day terrorist siege that began on September 21 and killed at least 67 people. A Somali intelligence official said the Al Shabab leader was the target of Saturday’s raid.
An Al Shabab official, Sheikh Abdiaziz Abu Musab, said in an audio message that the raid failed to achieve its goals.
* Associated Press