The security raids by the United States of America in Libya and Somalia that captured an Islamist wanted for bombing its Nairobi Embassy 15 years ago shows Washington’s determination to hunt down al Qaeda leaders around the globe, Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Libyan Nazih al-Ragye, better known by the cover name Abu Anas al-Liby, was seized by U.S. forces in Tripoli on Saturday, the Pentagon said.
However, a seaborne raid on the Somali port of Barawe, a stronghold of the al Shabaab movement behind last month’s attack on a Kenyan mall, failed to take or kill its target.
“We hope this makes clear that the U.S. will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror,” Kerry said during a visit to Bali.
“Those members of al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations literally can run but they can’t hide,” Kerry said.
“We will continue to try to bring people to justice,” he said.
The twin raids, coming two years after a U.S. Navy SEAL team killed al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, demonstrated American reach at a time when Islamist militants have been expanding their presence in Africa – not least in Libya following the Western-backed overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
Libya’s government, wary of an Islamist backlash, demanded an explanation for the “kidnapping” of one of its citizens.
The target of the Somali operation was unclear but a U.S. official was quoted as saying it was planned in response to the Nairobi mall attack two weeks ago in which at least 67 were killed.
It highlighted the risk of Somalia’s rumbling civil conflict destabilising a resource-rich continent where Islamists have been on the rise from west to east in recent years.
Launched in the early hours of Saturday, the Somali raid appears to have featured a beach landing in hostile territory that was followed by an extended firefight.
U.S. officials said SEALs conducted the raid and had killed al Qaeda-allied al Shabaab fighters while taking no casualties themselves. Somali police said seven people were killed during the operation.
Somalia’s Western-backed government, still trying to establish its authority after two decades of civil war, holds little sway in Barawe, 110 miles South of Mogadishu.
Asked of his involvement in the U.S. operation, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon said: “We have collaboration with the world and with neighbouring countries in the battle against al Shabaab.”
In Tripoli, the seemingly bloodless operation to snatch Libya as he returned home from dawn prayers at a mosque in the capital may have involved some cooperation with the friendly but weak Libyan administration.
“The Libyan government is following the news of the kidnapping of a Libyan citizen who is wanted by U.S. authorities,” read a statement from the office of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.
“The Libyan government has contacted U.S. authorities to ask them to provide an explanation,” the statement added.
Liby, who the FBI says is 49, has been under U.S. indictment since 2000 for his alleged role in bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which killed 224 people.
Of more pressing concern for Washington, however, may have been that al Qaeda appears to be establishing itself in Libya today