US forces carried out two major operations in Africa on Saturday, targeting an al-Shabaab leader in Somalia in connection with the recent Nairobi mall siege and nabbing an Al-Qaeda leader in Libya wanted for the 1998 bombings of US embassies.
A US Navy SEAL team approached a seaside house in the Somali town of Baraawe before sunrise in hopes of targeting an Al-Qaeda linked suspect. The operation, however, did not get its target, one former US military official told AP.
A US official told Reuters that the raid targeted a Kenyan of
Somali origin known by the name of Ikrima, who was reportedly a
foreign fighter commander for al-Shabaab in Somalia.
The raid was reportedly in response to the recent deadly attack on a Nairobi shopping mall, which killed more than 60 people. Al-Shabaab - a Somalia-based cell of the Al-Qaeda terror network - has claimed responsibility for the siege.
“The Baraawe raid was planned a week and a half ago,” the American security official stated. “It was prompted by the Westgate attack,” the official added, referring to the Nairobi mall siege.
The Pentagon earlier confirmed the operation, but provided no further details. "I can confirm that yesterday, October 4, US military personnel were involved in a counter terrorism operation against a known Al-Shabaab terrorist," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said. "We are not prepared to provide additional detail at this time."
US officials did not name the target and stated that none of the US personnel were wounded or killed, adding that the US forces withdrew after wounding Al-Shabaab members in order to avoid civilian casualties.
The Saturday firefight lasted over an hour and helicopters were called in for support, according to witnesses. The Somali raid was carried out by members of SEAL Team Six, the same elite unit that killed Al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, a senior US military official said on condition of anonymity.
Local residents described the fighting which began around 3am
local time (12:00am GMT). "We were awoken by heavy gunfire
last night, we thought an Al-Shabaab base at the beach was
captured," mother of four Sumira Nur from Barawe told Reuters
on Saturday. "We also heard sounds of shells, but we do not
know where they landed."
The Somali government was warned ahead of time about the attack, a senior Somali official confirmed. Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon on Sunday said his country is working with world and regional powers in the battle against Al-Shabaab.
"We have collaboration with the world and with neighboring
countries in the battle against Al-Shabaab," Shirdon told
reporters when asked if his government was aware of the raid on
the Somali port.
A spokesman from Al-Shabaab said that one of the group’s fighters had been killed, but that the group had won back the assault. US officials first reported that the leader of the group had been seized, but later retracted the statement.
A Somali official said the target of the Baraawe raid was a Chechen commander who was wounded during the operation, Reuters reported. Local police say seven people were killed. Al-Shabaab said on Sunday, however, that no “senior official” was in the Barawe house at the time of the US Special Forces Operation, Reuters reports.
"The US claim that a senior Al-Shabaab official was in the
house is false. No senior official was in the house," Sheikh
Abdiasis Abu Musab, Al-Shabaab's military operation spokesman,
told the agency.
"Normal fighters lived in the house and they bravely counter-attacked and chased the attackers. The apostate Somali government is nothing in Somalia, no one asked them for permission to carry out the attack."
US forces also captured suspected senior Al-Qaeda leader Abu Anas el-Liby - wanted for his alleged role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania - in the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Saturday, putting to rest a 15-year manhunt.
El-Liby was put on the US government’s most wanted list in 2000 after a New York court indicted him for his role in planning the embassy attacks. A $5 million reward was set by the FBI for information leading to his capture.
He was apprehended alive in a joint operation by the US military, the CIA, and the FBI, and is currently in American custody, The New York Times quoted an official as saying.
Senior officials in Libya’s transitional government were reportedly unaware of the planned operation. However, a US official claimed that the Libyan government was also involved in it.
On Sunday, the Libyan government said it wanted the US government to explain why it was not informed of the raid on the suspected al-Qaeda chief in Tripoli in advance.
Tripoli referred to the capture of el-Liby as a “kidnapping of a Libyan citizen,” Al Arabiya reports.
The US Department of Defense issued a statement saying the
suspected Al-Qaeda leader was "lawfully detained under the law
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the US military raids were done with the intention of showing militants in North Africa that they would not escape justice.
"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," Kerry said. "Members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations literally can run but they can't hide," Kerry, who is in Bali for an economic summit, said.
He added 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."
Kerry, who delivered his comments at an event at a port for
Balinese tuna fishermen, was the highest level US official to
comment on the raids.
On Sunday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also praised US
raids, saying they indicate that the US will "spare no effort to
hold terrorists accountable."
"I want to commend all of the service members who were involved in the planning and execution of these two operations, which demonstrate the unparalleled precision, global reach, and capabilities of the United States military," Hagel said in a statement.
However, anti-imperialism writer Jay Janson it doubtful these operations are going to solve anything.
“They eliminated the al-Shabaab leader a couple of years ago.
It didn’t mean anything. Al-Shabaab became stronger. After bin
Laden is gone, Al-Qaeda is stronger everywhere,” he told RT.
Also on Saturday, Kenya's military spokesman named four attackers involved in the four-day siege at Westgate Mall in the capital of Nairobi, which left more than 60 people dead in September.
The attackers are Abu Baara al-Sudani, Omar Nabhan, Khattab al-Kene and Umayr, confirmed Major Emmanuel Chirchir. Al-Kene and Umayr are members of al-Hijra - a Kenyan extremist group affiliated with Al-Shabaab – the former head of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia, Matt Bryden, told AP via email. He added that Nabhan may be a relative of an infamous Al-Qaeda operative, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was killed in a US military strike in 2009.
It was also revealed that a Sudanese man trained by Al-Qaeda was among the leaders of the mall siege, Kenya's government said.
Over 200 civilians were freed after the four-day bloody hostage crisis in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
Masked assailants armed with AK-47s and grenades launched their attack on the Westgate mall on September 21, reportedly targeting non-Muslims.
Аmong the victims of the attack were citizens from the US, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, China, South Korea, India, South Africa, the Netherlands, and Ghana. Five Americans were wounded.
The attack was claimed by Somalia's militant Al-Shabaab group, which has links to Al-Qaeda. It said the hostage siege was a response to Kenyan military operations in Somalia. The group had previously threatened to strike the mall - a popular destination for the city’s expatriate community.
The FBI is currently investigating whether any of the attackers were US citizens, after media reports alleged that some of the names of the gunmen tweeted by Al-Shabaab during the siege appeared to match up with the Twitter handles of Somalian immigrants living in the US.