U.S. hits back in Libya, Somalia
An al-Qaeda member wanted in 1998 bombings is captured. Navy SEALs engage with terror group.
A U.S. official said the aim of the raid, which took place Friday, was to take a "high-value" al-Shabab militant into custody, but the militant was not seized.
"U.S. personnel took all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties and disengaged after inflicting some al-Shabab casualties," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a covert operation. "We are not in a position to identify those casualties."
Separately, another U.S. official confirmed that the United States was involved in an operation in Libya on Saturday to capture a member of al-Qaeda who is suspected of involvement in the 1998 East Africa bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
A brother of Ruqai told the Associated Press that the suspect was seized early Saturday after three cars pulled up next to his, and its occupants smashed his window and forced him out of the vehicle. The brother described the abductors as foreign-looking "commandos."
There was no sign that the two operations were related, but they underscored how active U.S. intelligence and military agencies remain in African countries with active cells of Islamic militants.
The operation in Baraawe, Somalia, was in response to the Sept. 21 attack on the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi that killed at least 67 people and significantly raised the profile of al-Shabab, which took responsibility for the raid.
Al-Shabab fighters repelled the assault, which killed at least one of the group's fighters, a spokesman for the Somalian organization told Reuters news agency.
"Westerners in boats attacked our base at Baraawe beach," said Abdiasis Abu Musab, a spokesman for al-Shabab. "No planes or helicopters took part in the fight."
The use of Navy SEALs suggested American officials had hoped to take members of the group into custody or collect physical evidence. Strikes on terrorism suspects that aim solely to kill are typically carried out with drone or missile strikes, so as to not put ground troops in harm's way. The U.S. official said the raid was suspended before the terror leader could be nabbed out of concern that a more aggressive assault may have resulted in civilian casualties.
"The U.S. military attempts to capture terrorists when at all possible," the official said.
The U.S. Navy and those of its allies maintain a robust presence along Africa's eastern shore, where piracy has become widespread.
Pentagon spokesman George Little would only say officials were not prepared to provide details of the raid, which he called "a counter-terrorism operation against a known al-Shabab terrorist."
Western officials have grown alarmed that a group that was believed to have had limited ability to operate outside Somalia is now willing to call on supporters, including dual national Somalis, to carry out attacks abroad.
Officials did not say which leader was the target. The involvement of Navy SEALs in Saturday's raid, which was first reported by the New York Times, appeared to mark the boldest U.S. strike in Somalia since a 2009 operation that killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a senior al-Qaeda figure who was running the network's operations in Somalia.
Ruqai, the Libyan who was taken into custody, is listed as one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists. The bureau offered a $5 million bounty for information that led to his capture. He has been indicted in the Southern District of New York for his alleged role in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi on Aug. 7, 1998.
Saturday's operation in Tripoli appeared to represent a coup for U.S. intelligence agencies in a country struggling to establish a civilian government after decades of authoritarian rule and a short civil war in 2011 that gave rise to powerful militias.