By John Walcott and Indira A.R. Lakshmanan
U.S. forces raided a Somali town in search of a leader of the Islamist group al-Shabaab and captured a fugitive in Libya as part of anti-terrorism efforts.
The operation was carried out against a known al-Shabaab terrorist, said George Little, a Pentagon spokesman. He declined to give further details on the raid in Somalia.
U.S. armed forces undertook the two missions "to continue to hunt down those responsible for acts of terrorism," Secretary of State John Kerry said today during a trip in Bali, Indonesia. "We hope that this makes clear that the U.S. will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror."
Special Operations forces raided the port of Baraawe, south of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, a U.S. official briefed on the mission said earlier. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because counter-terrorism operations are classified, said one of the main targets of the air and sea assault was a suspected leader of al-Shabaab, which said it carried out an attack on the Westgate Mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, that killed at least 67 people last month.
The official declined to given the name of the leader, who he said was targeted for capture and may have been killed in an extended firefight between U.S. Navy SEALs and fighters in the village. The objective of most such missions is to capture and interrogate terrorist leaders, not kill them, the official said. No U.S. personnel were killed or injured, he said.
In a separate operation, U.S. forces captured Libyan Abu Anas al-Liby, who is being detained outside Libya, Little confirmed late yesterday.
The New York Times cited unidentified U.S. officials as saying the capture took place in Tripoli. The newspaper said Abu Anas, born Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, had been indicted in 2000 for taking part in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Abu Anas had a $5 million bounty on his head, according to the report.
The Libyan government was involved in the operation, the newspaper cited a senior U.S. official as saying. Libya will ask the U.S. to explain its role in seizing its citizen, the government said its on official Facebook page today.
The al-Shabaab figure sought in Somalia was also a link between extremists in East Africa and the remnants of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan and its Yemeni affiliate, according to the official briefed on that raid.
"The Saturday raid is definitely connected to the Westgate attack, because the target was al-Shabaab leaders," Emmanuel Kisiangani, a Nairobi-based analyst at the Institute for Security Studies, said today in a phone interview. "We are likely to see the U.S., Kenya and other countries actively pursuing terrorists to step up efforts to at least disorganize al-Shabaab using tactics like this raid."
U.S. and Kenyan authorities hoped to question members of al-Shabaab captured in Baraawe about the mall attack, and wanted to know whether the group was making plans with other al-Qaeda affiliates for attacks elsewhere in the world, the official said.
U.S. Special Operations forces killed another senior al- Shabaab leader, Saleh Ali Saleh, not far from Baraawe in 2009, the official said.
With assistance from David Malingha Doya in Nairobi, Glen Carey in Riyadh and Mariam Sami in Cairo. Editors: Andrew J. Barden, Alaa Shahine