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 and fired on an unidentified target, reportedly killing an al-Shabaab leader. The SEALs were forced to withdraw before the killing could be confirmed, The New York Times quoted a senior American official as saying.
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 has confirmed the operation, but failed to mention whether the senior militant leader had been killed. "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."
The Saturday firefight lasted over an hour and helicopters were called in for support, according to witnesses.
The Somali government was warned ahead of time about the attack, a senior Somali official confirmed.
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.
US forces capture Al-Qaeda leader in Libya
US forces also captured 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.
Four attackers identified in Westgate mall siege
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.