A Navy SEAL team that swam ashore hours earlier in Somalia engaged in a fierce firefight, but did not apprehend a terrorist suspected in the recent Kenyan mall siege.
“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,” US secretary of state John Kerry said yesterday while in Indonesia for an economic summit. “Members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations literally can run, but they can’t hide.”
The Pentagon identified the al-Qaeda leader captured Saturday as Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Abu Anas al-Libi. He has been on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list since it was introduced shortly after the Sep 11, 2001, attacks. There was a $5 million (€3.69m) bounty on his head.
He was indicted by a federal court in New York for his alleged role in the bombings of the US Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, on Aug 7, 1998, that killed more than 220 people. The US Defence 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.
In the earlier raid on Saturday, the Navy SEAL team reached land near a town in southern Somalia before militants of the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group, al-Shabab, rose for dawn prayers, US and Somali officials told The Associated Press. The assault on a house in Barawe targeted a specific al-Qaeda suspect related to the Nairobi mall attack, but the operation did not get its target, one current and one former US military official told the AP.
Little confirmed that US military personnel were involved in a counter-terrorism operation against a known al-Shabab terrorist in Somalia, but did not provide details. The leader of al-Shabab, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Godane, claimed responsibility for the mall attack, a four-day terrorist siege that began Sep 21 and killed at least 67 people. A Somali intelligence official said the al-Shabab leader was the US target.
Kerry said the US would “continue to try to bring people to justice in an appropriate way with hopes that ultimately these kinds of activities against everybody in the world will stop”.
American officials said there were no US casualties in either the Somalia or Libya operation.
Al-Libi’s capture would represent a significant blow to what remains of the core al-Qaeda organisation once led by Osama bin Laden.
A senior US military official said the Tripoli raid was carried out by the US Army’s Delta Force, which has responsibility for counter-terrorism operations in North Africa. The official was not authorised 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. Al-Libi is believed to have returned to Libya during the 2011 civil war that led to the ouster and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
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”.
Al-Libi was believed to be a computer specialist with al-Qaeda. 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.