North African Counterterrorism raids net 1998 embassy bomber
It took 15 years but we got him. One of the al-Qaeda operatives who helped carry out the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania was captured in Tripoli, Libya with the help of FBI and CIA agents.
And, we are told, there was a simultaneous but unrelated raid on a seaside villa in Somalia targeting the head of al-Shabab, the terrorist group that carried out the deadly mall attack in Nairobi a couple of weeks ago.
In Tripoli, American forces captured a Libyan militant who had been indicted in 2000 for his role in the 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The militant, born Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai and known by his nom de guerre, Abu Anas al-Liby, had a $5 million bounty on his head; his capture at dawn ended a 15-year manhunt.
In Somalia, the Navy SEAL team emerged before sunrise from the Indian Ocean and exchanged gunfire with militants at the home of a senior leader of the Shabab, the Somali militant group. The raid was planned more than a week ago, officials said, after a massacre by the Shabab at a Nairobi shopping mall that killed more than 60 people two weeks ago.
The SEAL team was forced to withdraw before it could confirm that it had killed the Shabab leader, a senior American security official said. Officials declined to identify the target.
Officials said the timing of the two raids was coincidental. But occurring on the same day, they underscored the rise of northern Africa as a haven for international terrorists. Libya has collapsed into the control of a patchwork of militias since the ouster of the Qaddafi government in 2011. Somalia, the birthplace of the Shabab, has lacked an effective central government for more than two decades.
With President Obama locked in a standoff with Congressional Republicans and his leadership criticized for a policy reversal in Syria, the raids could fuel accusations among his critics that the administration was eager for a showy foreign policy victory.
Abu Anas, the Libyan Qaeda leader, was considered a major prize, and officials said he was alive in United States custody. While the details about his capture were sketchy, an American official said Saturday night that he appeared to have been taken peacefully and that he was "no longer in Libya."
The operation that netted Anas was apparently a snatch and grab - they cornered him at his home and sped away without firing a shot.
But the irony is bitter; we were able to capture a terrorist wanted for a 15 year old attack while the men responsible for killing our ambassador and 3 others in the same city just a year ago walk around with impunity and no fear of being brought to justice. The New York Times glosses over this fact:
The operation will do nothing to quell the continuing questions about the events in Benghazi 13 months ago that led to the deaths of four Americans. But officials say the operation was a product of the decision after Benghazi to bolster the counterterrorism effort in Libya, especially as Tripoli became a safe haven for Qaeda leadership.
How about "bolstering" our efforts to capture the terrorists who attacked our diplomats? Is the FBI even on the case? We've had no progress reports from the State Department, who apparently wish the whole incident would go away.
Meanwhile, the Somalia operation didn't go quite as planned:
Witnesses described a firefight lasting over an hour, with helicopters called in for air support. A senior Somali government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, "The attack was carried out by the American forces, and the Somali government was pre-informed about the attack."
A spokesman for the Shabab said that one of their fighters had been killed in an exchange of gunfire but that the group had beaten back the assault. American officials initially reported that they had seized the Shabab leader, but later backed off that account.
A United States official said that no Americans had been killed or wounded and that the Americans "disengaged after inflicting some Shabab casualties."
"We are not in a position to identify those casualties," the official said.
Whether they were ready for us, or we had bad intelligence about the numbers of fighters, we'll probably never know. We should be thankful the SEALs got out without any casualties.
This won't be the last operation in North Africa. We might expect increasing attention paid to the terrorists who are flocking to Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria, and elsewhere in that region as al-Qaeda affiliated groups become bolder and stronger.