TRIPOLI // Libya demanded an explanation from Washington today for the “kidnap” of a citizen in a US special forces raid in its capital that captured a top Al Qaeda suspect.
Nazih Al Ragye, better known by the cover name Abu Anas Al Libi, was seized by commandos in Tripoli on Saturday on his way home from dawn prayers. He was wanted for bombing US embassies in Africa 15 years ago.
“The Libyan government has been following the reports of the kidnap of one of the Libyan citizens wanted by the authorities in the United States,” a government spokesman said.
“As soon as it heard the reports, the Libyan government contacted the US authorities to demand an explanation.”
The government underlined its “desire to see Libyan citizens tried in their own country, whatever the accusations levelled against them”.
Al Libi’s capture came as a US raid in the Somali port of Barawe, a stronghold of the Al Shabab movement behind last month’s attack on a Kenyan mall, failed to take its target.
The Somalian government said it knew about the Barawe operation and had been cooperating with foreign countries to fight the Al Qaeda-linked militants.
“Our cooperation with international partners on fighting against the terrorism is not a secret,” said Abdi Farah Shirdo, the prime minister, on Sunday. “Understand me, that fighting is not a secret. And our interest is to get a peaceful Somalia free from terrorism and problems.”
The US Navy Seal operation in Barawe had targeted a militant suspected in last month’s attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, that killed 67 people.
“We hope that this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in the effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror,” John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said on Sunday while in Indonesia for an economic summit. “Members of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations literally can run but they can’t hide.”
Al Libi, who was on the FBI’s most wanted list with a $5 million (Dh18.35m) reward, was indicted in US federal court in New York for allegedly playing a key role in deadly 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
“As the result of a US counterterrorism operation, Abu Anas Al ibi is currently lawfully detained by the US military in a secure location outside of Libya,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.
In the earlier raid on Saturday, the Seal team swam ashore near a town in southern Somalia before militants rose for dawn prayers.
The leader of Al Shabab, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Godane, claimed responsibility for the mall attack, a four-day terrorist siege that began September 21 and killed at least 67 people. A Somali intelligence official said the Shabab leader was the US target.
Mr Kerry said the United States would “continue to try to bring people to justice in an appropriate way with hopes that ultimately these kinds of activities against everybody in the world will stop”.
American officials said there were no US casualties in either of the Somali or Libyan operations.
Al Libi’s capture would represent a significant blow to what remains of the core Al Qaeda organisation once led by Osama bin Laden.
A senior US military official said the Tripoli raid was carried out by the US army’s Delta Force, which has responsibility for counterterrorism operations in North Africa.
Family members said gunmen in a three-car convoy seized Al Libi outside his home in the Libyan capital. Al Libi is believed to have returned to Libya during the 2011 civil war that led to the ousting and killing of dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
His brother, Nabih, said the 49-year-old was parking outside his house early on Saturday after dawn prayers, when three vehicles surrounded his vehicle. The gunmen smashed his car’s window and seized his gun before grabbing Al Libi and fleeing. The brother said Al Libi’s wife saw the kidnapping from her window and described the abductors as foreign-looking armed “commandos”.
Al Libi was believed to be a computer specialist with Al Qaeda. He studied electronic and nuclear engineering, graduating from Tripoli University, and was an anti-Qaddafi activist.
He is believed to have spent time in Sudan, where bin Laden was based in the early 1990s. After bin Laden was forced to leave Sudan, Al Libi turned up in Britain in 1995 where he was granted political asylum under unclear circumstances and lived in Manchester. He was arrested by Scotland Yard in 1999, but released because of lack of evidence and later fled Britain.
The raid in Somalia came 20 years after the “Black Hawk Down” battle in Mogadishu, when a mission to capture Somali warlords in the capital went awry after militiamen shot down two US helicopters. Eighteen US soldiers died in the battle, which marked the beginning of the end of that US military mission to try to bring stability to the nation.
Since then, US military intervention has been limited to missile attacks and lightning operations by special forces.
Saturday’s operation was carried out by members of Seal Team Six, the same unit that killed bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout in 2011, a senior US military official said.
The team ran into fiercer resistance than expected, and after a 15 to 20-minute firefight, the unit’s leader decided to abort the mission and the Americans swam away, the official said. Seal Team Six has responsibility for counterterrorism activities in the Horn of Africa.
* Reuters with additional reporting by Associated Press and Agence France-Presse