Story by the Associated Press; curated by Dave Urbanski
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — U.S. Navy SEALs carried out a pre-dawn raid Saturday on a coastal town in southern Somalia looking for a specific Al Qaeda suspect linked to the recent Kenyan shopping mall massacre, but did not get their target, a U.S. military official told The Associated Press.
A former U.S. military official also confirmed the raid by the SEALs, but no other details have been provided. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the raid by name. The Pentagon declined comment.
In Somalia, officials said international military forces carried out a pre-dawn strike Saturday against “high-profile” foreign targets, officials said.
The strike was carried out in the hours before morning prayers in Barawe, the same town where Navy SEALs four years ago killed a most-wanted Al Qaeda operative, the officials said.
The strike comes exactly two weeks after al-Shabab militants attacked Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, a four-day terrorist assault that killed at least 67 people in neighboring Kenya.
The leader of al-Shabab, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Godane, claimed responsibility for the Nairobi attack and said it was in retaliation for Kenya’s military deployment inside Somalia to prevent a takeover by the militant Islamic Somali group.
In Kenya, a military spokesman released the names of four men implicated in the mall attack.
A resident of Barawe — a seaside town 150 miles south of Mogadishu — said by telephone that heavy gunfire woke up residents before dawn prayers. An al-Shabab fighter who gave his name as Abu Mohamed said “foreign” soldiers attacked a house, prompting militants to rush to the scene to capture a soldier. Mohamed said that effort was not successful.
The foreign troops attacked a two-story beachside house in Barawe where foreign fighters lived, battling their way inside, said Mohamed, who said he had visited the scene. Al-Shabab has a formal alliance with Al Qaeda, and hundreds of foreign fighters from the U.S., Britain and Middle Eastern countries fight alongside Somali members of al-Shabab.
A Somali intelligence official said the targets of the raid were “high-profile” foreigners in the house. The intelligence official also said the strike was carried out by an international military. A second intelligence official also confirmed the attack. Both insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
In Kenya, military spokesman Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir on Saturday confirmed the names of four fighters implicated in the Westgate Mall attack last month. Chirchir named the attackers as Abu Baara al-Sudani, Omar Nabhan, Khattab al-Kene and Umayr, names that were first broadcast by a local Kenyan television station.
Matt Bryden, the former head of the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, said via email that al-Kene and Umayr are known members of al-Hijra, the Kenyan arm of al-Shabab. He added that Nabhan may be a relative of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the target of the 2009 Navy SEALs raid in Barawe.
In September 2009 a daylight commando raid carried out by Navy SEALs in Barawe killed six people, including Nabhan, one of the most-wanted Al Qaeda operatives in the region and an alleged plotter in the 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 250 people.
CNN reports that U.S. Special Forces were behind a Saturday capture in Tripoli of Anas al-Libi, a Libyan Al Qaeda leader also wanted for his role in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in East Africa.
A resident of Barawe who gave his name as Mohamed Bile said militants in Barawe closed down the town in the hours after the assault, and that all traffic and movements have been restricted. Militants were carrying out house-to-house searches, likely to find evidence that a spy had given intelligence to a foreign power used to launch the attack, he said.
“We woke up to find al-Shabab fighters had sealed off the area and their hospital is also inaccessible,” Bile told The Associated Press by phone. “The town is in a tense mood.”