U.S. Hits Terror Targets In Libya, Somalia
Twin raids by U.S. special forces in Libya and Somalia have hit terror targets, and one resulted in the capture of an al Qaeda operative who had been sought since 1998:
American commandos carried out raids on Saturday in two far-flung African countries in a powerful flex of military muscle aimed at capturing fugitive terrorist suspects. American troops assisted by F.B.I. and C.I.A. agents seized a suspected leader of Al Qaeda on the streets of Tripoli, Libya, while a Navy SEAL team raided the seaside villa of a militant leader in a predawn firefight on the coast of Somalia.
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 shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, 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.”
His capture was the latest blow to what remains of the original Qaeda organization after a 12-year American campaign to capture or kill its leadership, including the killing two years ago of its founder, Osama bin Laden, in Pakistan.
On Sunday, the Libyan interim government demanded an explanation from Washington for the “kidnapping” of Abu Anas at as both governments braced for protests against the American raid that captured him.
“As soon as it heard the reports, the Libyan government contacted the United States authorities to demand an explanation” for “the kidnapping of a Libyan citizen,” the government said in a statement.
The demand appeared to contradict the statements of American officials the previous day that the Libyan government had played some role in the capture of Abu Anas.
His capture signaled a dramatic break with Washington’s previous reluctance to send American Special Operations forces into Libya to capture wanted terrorists or suspects in the deadly attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi in 2012. The United States government had previously refrained from such interventions for fear of triggering a backlash that could destabilize or even overwhelm Libya’s fledgling transitional government, which is still struggling to muster a viable national police force or military.
But United States officials have now apparently run out of patience, potentially signaling a new willingness to try to apprehend suspects in the Benghazi attack as well.
Given that there doesn’t appear to be much of a central authority in either Libya or Somalia, I’m not sure that there is much of a choice. The broader problem, of course, is that broad swaths of Northern Africa seem to be becoming breeding grounds, and hideouts, for terrorist elements. It doesn’t seem to be to the same degree that Afghanistan had become in the years before 9/11, but it may be only a matter of time before that happens if entire nations are essentially lawless outside their major cities in the way that Libya and Somalia are.