Navy SEALs Raid Terror Targets in Somalia, Libya

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 6 2013 9:30 AM

Navy SEALs Raid Terror Targets in Somalia, Libya and Capture Top al-Qaida Leader

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Photograph shows inside of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi after the deadly assault by Islamist gunmen on September 21

Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

UPDATE: Navy SEALs carried out raids Friday and Saturday in Somalia and Libya, respectively, to capture terrorist suspects in what looked to be unrelated actions that illustrated how active U.S. Special Forces are in a region that has become a haven for al-Qaida and related terror groups. Despite initial reports that claimed otherwise, it now seems the Somalia raid was not a success because the “high-value” al-Shabab militant who was the target was not seized. But in Tripoli, U.S. forces captured Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, a Libyan known by the alias Abu Anas al-Libi who was a top al-Qaida leader and an alleged conspirator in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, reports the Associated Press.

Initial reports claimed the Somalia raid had captured a senior al-Shabab member who was tied with the Westgate mall attack in Nairobi. Now it turns out though that was not the case and it isn’t clear whether he was even killed. “U.S. personnel took all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties and disengaged after inflicting some al-Shabab casualties,” an official tells the Washington Post. “We are not in a position to identify those casualties.” Yet even if the leaders were killed that likely means the operation failed because the use of SEALs strongly suggests the goal was to capture militants or collect evidence. If the goal would have simply been to kill terror suspects, a drone or missile strike would have likely been used.

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Meanwhile, in Libya though, U.S. forces seem to have achieved a big victory with the seemingly bloodless capture of Abu Anas, who had been designated a “specially designated global terrorist” and was named on the United Nations al-Qaida sanctions list, reports the Wall Street Journal. Indeed, he was “among the top remaining leaders” of al-Qaida, long known as “an elusive confidante of Osama bin Laden,” points out NBC News. Although he has long been elusive, U.S. officials knew he had returned to Libya as the Qaddafi regime was falling. "He's one of the last guys from the East Africa embassy bombings who was still out there," an official said. Because of all the difficulties the administration has faced with Guanatanamo, it’s likely that he will now be tried in New York, according to Reuters. The Libyan government complained that it had not been consulted prior to the raid, which it called a "kidnapping" of one of its citizens.

Considering the current political deadlock in Washington right now, the twin raids “could fuel accusations among [Obama] critics that the administration was eager for a showy foreign policy victory,” notes the New York Times. It certainly didn't take long for the White House to celebrate. "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," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday. "Members of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations literally can run but they can't hide."

Original post, Oct. 5, 6 p.m.: A Navy SEAL team carried out a highly unusual raid in the Somali town of Baraawe on Saturday, capturing a high value target who was apparently linked to the deadly attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, according to the New York Times and NBC. The Guardian claims the target of the raid was “a high-profile leader in al-Shabaab,” and one person identified him as a Chechen. The Times highlights that the target must have been considered a high priority because these types of raids are exceedingly rare due to the high risk involved. NBC says its sources would not identify the target of the raid but claimed the operation was a clear success: “It was a very good day.”

British authorities have denied reports, including by an al-Shabaab spokesman, that the raid involved UK special forces. Eyewitness accounts describe how a group of “white soldiers” launched an attack from small boats, apparently with the support of helicopters. The New York Times says that there was an hour-long firefight and it marked the most significant raid by U.S. troops in Somalia in four years. The paper also hears word that the raid was “planned a week and a half ago” and that “it was prompted by the Westgate attack.”

Meanwhile, on Saturday, the Kenyan government said that a Sudanese man who had received training from al-Qaida was one of the leaders of the Westgate attack. He was one of the four attackers officials have identified, including a Kenyan of Arab origin and a Somali, reports Reuters.  

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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