Abu Anas al-Liby
U.S. commandos capture, kill terror suspects in Africa
- Article by: DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, NICHOLAS KULISH and ERIC SCHMITT New York Times
- October 5, 2013 - 10:25 PM
CAIRO – U.S. commandos carried out raids Saturday in two far-flung African countries in a powerful flex of military muscle aimed at capturing fugitive terrorist suspects. Navy SEALs emerged before dawn from the Indian Ocean to attack a seaside villa in a Somali town known as a gathering point for militants, while U.S. troops assisted by FBI and CIA agents seized a suspected leader of Al-Qaida on the streets of Tripoli, Libya.
In Tripoli, U.S. forces captured a Libyan militant who had been indicted in 2000 for his role in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. 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 and his capture in broad daylight ended a 15-year manhunt.
The Somalia raid was planned more than a week ago, officials said, in response to a massacre by the militant Somali group Al-Shabab at a Nairobi shopping mall. The Navy SEAL team targeted a senior Al-Shabab leader in the town of Baraawe and exchanged gunfire with militants in a predawn firefight.
The unidentified Al-Shabab leader is believed to have been killed in the firefight, but the SEAL team was forced to withdraw before that could be confirmed, a senior U.S. security official said.
Officials said the timing of the two raids was coincidental. But coming on the same day, they underscored the importance of counterterrorism operations in North Africa, where the breakdown of order in Libya since the ouster of the Gadhafi government in 2011 and the persistence of Al-Shabab in Somalia, which has lacked an effective central government for more than two decades, have helped spread violence and instability across the region.
The military may have pursued both targets simultaneously to avoid the possibility that news of one raid might spook into hiding the target of the other, or that a public backlash in one country might rattle the governments of the other into withdrawing its quiet cooperation. It was unclear if Washington was planning other raids as well.
But at a moment when President Obama’s popularity is flagging under the weight of his standoff with congressional Republicans and his leadership criticized for his reversal in Syria, the simultaneous attacks are bound to fuel accusations that the administration was eager for a showy victory.
Abu Anas, the Libyan Al-Qaida leader, was the bigger prize, and officials said Saturday night that he was alive in U.S. custody. While the details about his capture were sketchy, a U.S. official said Saturday night that he appeared to have been taken peacefully and that “he is no longer in Libya.”
His capture was the latest grave blow to what remains of the original Al-Qaida organization after a 12-year-old U.S. campaign to capture or kills its leadership, including the killing two years ago of its founder, Osama bin Laden.
Abu Anas is not believed to have played any role in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, senior officials briefed on that investigation have said, but he may have sought to build networks connecting what remains of the Al-Qaida organization to like-minded militants in his native Libya.
A senior U.S. official said the Libyan government was involved in the operation, but it was unclear in what capacity. An assistant to the prime minister of the transitional government said the government was unaware of any operation or Abu Anas’ abduction. Asked if U.S. forces ever conduct raids inside Libya or collaborate with Libyan forces, Mehmoud Abu Bahia, an assistant to the defense minister, replied, “Absolutely not.”
Abu Anas, 49, was born in Tripoli and joined Bin Laden’s organization as early as the early 1990s, when it was based in Sudan. He later moved to Britain, where he was granted political asylum. U.S. prosecutors in New York charged him in a 2000 indictment with helping to conduct “visual and photographic surveillance” of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1993 and again in 1995. Prosecutors said in the indictment that Abu Anas had discussed with another senior Al-Qaida figure the idea of attacking an American target in retaliation for the U.S. peacekeeping operation in Somalia.
American officials say they will want to question Abu Anas for several weeks. But they did not dispute that, with an indictment pending against him in New York, that was most likely his ultimate destination.
The operation is unlikely to quell the continuing questions about the events in Benghazi 13 months ago that led to the deaths of four Americans. But officials say it was a product of the decision, after Benghazi, to bolster the counterterrorism effort in Libya, especially as Tripoli became a safe haven for Al-Qaida leadership. Abu Anas was one of the most senior Al-Qaida officials captured in recent years.
His capture coincided with a fierce gunfight that killed 15 Libyan soldiers at a checkpoint in a neighborhood southeast of Tripoli, near the traditional home of Abu Anas’ clan.
A spokesman for the Libyan army general staff, Col. Ali Sheikhi, said five cars full of armed men in masks pulled up at the army checkpoint at 6:15 a.m. and opened fire at point-blank range. It was not clear if the assault at the checkpoint was related to the capture of Abu Anas.
The raid in Somalia that targeted a leader of Al-Shabab was the most significant raid by U.S. troops in that lawless country since commandos killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, an Al-Qaida mastermind, near the same town four years ago.
The town, Baraawe, a small port south of Mogadishu, is known as a gathering place for Al-Shabab’s foreign fighters.
The military assault was “prompted by” the attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi two weeks ago, a senior government official said. More than 60 people were killed when Al-Shabab militants overran the mall.
Witnesses in Baraawe 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 confirmed the raid, saying, “The attack was carried out by the American forces and the Somali government was pre-informed about the attack.”
© 2013 Star Tribune