NEW YORK: U.S. commandos launched twin raids in Libya and Somalia on Saturday, capturing a senior al Qaeda official who allegedly planned 1998 embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, according to US officials.
The officials initially reported to television channels that a “high-level target” also had been apprehended in the Somalia raid, but they later said it was unclear if that was the case.
But they said that U.S. Special Operations forces had captured Anas al Liby, a longtime al Qaeda member, in a pre-dawn raid near Tripoli, Libya. Al Liby, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed Nabih al-Ruqai, has been wanted for more than a decade by the U.S. and has a $5 million reward on his head.
“As the result of a U.S. counter-terrorism operation, Abu Anas al Liby is currently lawfully detained by the U.S. military in a secure location outside of Libya,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in a statement late Saturday.
The news about US counter-terrorism operations dominated electronic media, pushing aside saturation coverage of US government shutdown, now in its sixth day.
In Somalia, Navy SEALs carried out a predawn raid against a suspected Shabab leader who is alleged to have planned the group’s deadly attack last month on a shopping mall in Kenya, U.S. officials said, adding that they stormed a beachfront house in a town not far from Mogadishu, the capital.
Officials did not say which leader was the target of the raid in Somalia. Saturday’s operation appeared to mark the significant U.S. strike in Somalia since the 2009 operation by Navy SEALs that killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a senior al-Qaeda figure who was running the network?s operations in Somalia.
Relatives of al Liby told The Associated Press he was seized by gunmen in a three-car convoy while he was parking his car outside his house after morning praters. Al Libi’s brother, Nabih, said that abductors smashed his car’s window, seizing his gun before grabbing him and fleeing.
Nabih also told the news agency that al Liby’s wife witnessed the kidnapping from a window and described the gunmen as foreign-looking armed “commandos.”
Al Liby is stated to has been a member of al Qaeda since at least 1994 and was a confidante of Osama bin Laden. He also is a computer expert for the group and is believed to be one of the masterminds of the 1998 U.S. Embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 12 Americans and more than 220 Kenyans. He has been indicted in New York in connection with the attacks and could ultimately be brought to the U.S. to stand trial.
The indictment alleges that al Liby and other members of al Qaeda discussed an attack against the embassy in Nairobi in late 1993. He is alleged to have conducted visual and photographic surveillance of the embassy that year. He is also accused of plotting in 1994 for attacks against the building then housing the U.S. Agency for International Development in Nairobi and against British, French and Israeli targets in Nairobi.
In discussing the Somalia raid, official initially declined to identify the target of the operation, but later acknowledged that the U.S. forces were looking for the leader of al Shabaab, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Godane, but did not capture him. There were conflicting reports on whether any al Shabaab leaders were killed in the operation.
Pentagon spokesman George Little confirmed late on Saturday that U.S. forces were involved in an operation against a known al Shabaab member.
“I can confirm that yesterday, October 4, U.S. military personnel were involved in a counterterrorism operation against a known al Shabaab terrorist. We are not prepared to provide additional detail at this time,” Little said.
An American official told NBC News no U.S. personnel were injured or killed in the operation.
Early reports from the region said there was heavy gunfire during an assault by foreign forces on a building or complex in the southern Somali town of Barawe.