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 of war.”