In a stealthy seaside assault in Somalia and in a raid in Libya's capital, U.S. special forces on Saturday struck out against Islamic extremists who have carried out terrorist attacks in East Africa, snatching a Libyan al-Qaida leader allegedly involved in the bombings of U.S. embassies 15 years ago but aborting a mission to capture a terrorist suspect linked to last month's Nairobi shopping mall attack after a fierce firefight.
A U.S. Navy SEAL team swam ashore 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. The raid on a house in the town of Barawe targeted a specific al-Qaida suspect related to the mall attack, but the operation did not get its target, one current and one former U.S. military official told AP.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the raid publicly.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman George Little confirmed that U.S. military personnel had been involved in a counterterrorism operation against a known al-Shabab terrorist in Somalia, but did not provide details.
U.S. officials said there were no U.S. casualties in either the Somali or Libyan operation.
The Somali raid was carried out by members of SEAL Team Six, the same unit that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout in 2011, another senior U.S. military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.
But this time, SEAL Team Six members encountered fiercer resistance than expected so after a 15-20 minute firefight, the unit leader decided to abort the mission and they swam away, the official said. SEAL Team Six has responsibility for counterterrorism activities in the Horn of Africa.
Within hours of the Somalia attack, the U.S. Army's Delta Force carried out a raid in Libya's capital, Tripoli, to seize a Libyan al-Qaida leader wanted for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 220 people, the military official said. Delta Force carries out counterterrorism operations in North Africa.
The Pentagon identified the captured al-Qaida leader as Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Anas al-Libi, who has been on the FBI's most wanted terrorists list since it was introduced shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Al-Libi "is currently lawfully detained by the U.S. military in a secure location outside of Libya," Pentagon spokesman Little said.
Saturday's raid in Somalia occurred 20 years after the famous "Black Hawk Down" battle in Mogadishu in which a mission to capture Somali warlords in the capital went awry after militiamen shot down two U.S. helicopters. Eighteen U.S. soldiers were killed in the battle, and it marked the beginning of the end of that U.S. military mission to bring stability to the Horn of Africa nation. Since then, U.S. military intervention has been limited to missile attacks and lightning operations by special forces.
A resident of Barawe a seaside town 240 kilometers (150 miles) south of Mogadishu said by telephone that heavy gunfire woke up residents before dawn prayers.