US forces conduct raids in Libya, Somalia
Suspected al-Qaida figure captured in Tripoli
Armed al-Shabab fighters just outside Mogadishu prepare to travel into the city in pickup trucks after vowing there would be new waves of attacks against Ethiopian troops. International military forces carried out a pre-dawn strike Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, against foreign fighters in the same southern Somalia village where U.S. Navy SEALS four years ago killed a most-wanted al-Qaida operative, officials said. The strike comes exactly two weeks after al-Shabab militants attacked Nairobi's Westgate Mall, a four-day terrorist assault that killed at least 67 people in neighboring Kenya. Al-Shabab has a formal alliance with al-Qaida, and hundreds of foreign fighters from the U.S., Britain and Middle Eastern countries fight alongside Somali members of al-Shabab. AP Photo
The suspected al-Qaida figure nabbed by U.S. special forces in a dramatic operation in the Libyan capital had been living freely in his homeland after his return there three years ago, his family said. Libya’s government asked for an explanation Sunday from the United States after the Americans seized Abu Anas al-Libi from a Tripoli street outside his home and whisked him out of the country.
The raid that captured al-Libi was one of two dramatic American raids on the ground in African countries targeting suspected terrorists on Saturday. In Somalia, a Navy SEAL team swam ashore early the same day and engaged in a fierce firefight, thought it did not capture its target, a militant suspected in the recent Kenyan mall siege.
The operations — one in North Africa, the other in the Horn of Africa — were a startling move to pursue terror suspects directly in two countries mired in chaos where the United States has suffered bloody humiliations in the past.
“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,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday while in Indonesia for an economic summit. “Members of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations literally can run but they can’t hide.”
The U.S. Defense Department’s chief spokesman, George Little, said the suspect is “lawfully detained under the law of war in a secure location outside of Libya.” Little’s statement did not elaborate.
Al-Libi was indicted by a federal court in New York for his alleged role in the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, on Aug. 7, 1998, that killed more than 220 people.
A senior U.S. military official said the Tripoli raid was carried out by the U.S. Army’s Delta Force, which has responsibility for counterterrorism operations in North Africa. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the operation and discussed it on condition of anonymity.
Family members said gunmen in a three-car convoy seized al-Libi outside his home in the Libyan capital.
His brother, Nabih, said the 49-year-old was parking outside his house early 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.”
Libya asked the United States on Sunday for “clarifications” regarding the raid and said any Libyan should face trial in his own country.
The raid puts the fragile Libyan government in a delicate position — the country’s post-Gadhafi leadership faces criticism from some Libyans that it is too close to the United States, and it cannot be seen to be allowing U.S. forces to act freely on Libyan territory. The central government has had only limited authority around the country, where militiamen — many of the Islamic militants themselves — hold considerable power and have unleashed their anger on the government in the past.
Al-Libi was believed to be a computer specialist with al-Qaida. He studied electronic and nuclear engineering, graduating from Tripoli University, and was an anti-Gadhafi 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.
In the earlier raid Saturday, the Navy SEAL team reached land near a town in southern Somalia before militants of the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group al-Shabab rose for dawn prayers, U.S. and Somali officials told The Associated Press. American officials said there were no U.S. casualties in either the Somali or Libyan operation.
The assault on a house in Barawe targeted a specific al-Qaida suspect related to the Nairobi mall attack, but the operation did not get its target, one current and one former U.S. military official told the AP. It was carried out by members of SEAL Team Six, the same unit that killed in Laden in his Pakistan hideout in 2011, another senior U.S. military official said.
Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the raid publicly.
The team ran into fiercer resistance than expected, and after a 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.
A U.S. official said U.S. forces disengaged after inflicting some casualties on the fighters, said the official, who was not authorized to speak by name and insisted on anonymity.