Monday, October 07, 2013
Two US raids in Africa show the United
States is pressuring al-Qaeda, officials said on Sunday, though a failure in
Somalia and an angry response in Libya also highlighted Washington's woes.
In Tripoli, US forces snatched a Libyan wanted over the
bombings of the American embassy in Nairobi 15 years ago and whisked him out of
the country, prompting Secretary of State John Kerry to say that al-Qaeda
leaders "can run but they can't hide".
But the capture of Nazih al-Ragye, better known as Abu Anas
al-Liby, also provoked a complaint about the "kidnap" from the
Western-backed Libyan prime minister, who faces a backlash from armed Islamists
who have carved out a share of power since the West helped Libyan rebels oust
Muammar Gaddafi two years ago.
In Somalia, Navy SEALS stormed ashore into the al Shabaab
stronghold of Barawe but, a US official said, they failed to capture or kill
the target among the Somali allies of al-Qaeda.
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told
Reuters the target was a Kenyan of Somali origin known as Ikrima, described as
a foreign fighter commander for al Shabaab in Somalia.
Ikrima, whose real name is Abdikadar Mohamed Abdikadar, was
linked with now-dead al-Qaeda operatives Harun Fazul and Saleh Nabhan, who had
roles in the 1998 embassy bombing in Nairobi and in the 2002 attacks on a hotel
and airline in Mombasa, US officials said.
One official said the US operation in Somalia was not in
direct response to last month's al-Shabaab attack on the Westgate mall in
Nairobi that killed at least 67. It was not known if Ikrima was connected to
that attack, the official said.
Kerry, on a visit to Indonesia, said President Barack
Obama's administration was "pleased with the results" of the combined
assaults early on Saturday. "We hope this makes clear that the United
States of America will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who
conduct acts of terror", he said.
Two years after Navy SEALS tracked down and killed al Qaeda
founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, a decade after al Qaeda's 11 September attacks
on the United States in 2001, the twin operation demonstrated the reach of US
military forces in Africa, where Islamist militancy has been growing.
The forays also spotlighted Somalia's status as a fragmented
haven for al-Qaeda allies more than 20 years after Washington intervened in
vain in its civil war and Libya's descent into an anarchic battleground.
Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said they showed Washington
would "spare no effort to hold terrorists accountable."
Clearly aware of the risks to his government of complicity
in the snatching of Liby, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said: "The Libyan
government is following the news of the kidnapping of a Libyan citizen who is
wanted by US authorities.
"The Libyan government has contacted US authorities to
ask them to provide an explanation."
Kerry declined to say whether his government had told Libya
of the raid to capture Al-Liby, whom he called a "legal and appropriate
target" for the US military.
Another US official told Reuters on condition of anonymity
that the Libyan government had been notified of the operation, but did not say
"The United States of America is going to do everything
in its power that is legal and appropriate in order to enforce the law and
protect our security," Kerry said, when asked what perception was left
when the US military snatched people off the streets of foreign countries.
He added: "He will now have an opportunity to defend
himself and to be appropriately brought to justice in a court of law."
Liby is a suspect in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies
in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 civilians.
His whereabouts were unclear on Sunday, but in similar prior
cases, the United States has held detainees aboard ship. US Navy vessels in the
Mediterranean, as well as bases in Italy and Germany, would be just a short
Liby's son, Abdullah al Ragye, 19, told reporters at the
family home that men had pulled up in four cars, drugged his father, dragged
him from his vehicle and driven off with him.
"They had a Libyan look and Libyan accents," he
said. It was not clear if the men were linked to the Libyan state, which may
either have sought to keep its distance or been sidelined by Washington for
fear of leaks.
The US raid would show Libya was no refuge for
"international terrorists", said Abdul Bassit Haroun, a former
Islamist militia commander who works with the Libyan government.
Islamist militants, like those blamed for the deadly attack
on the US consulate in Benghazi a year ago, would hit back violently, he
warned. "This won't just pass," Haroun said.
"There will be a strong reaction in order to take
revenge because this is one of the most important al-Qaeda figures."
Somalia's Western-backed government said it did cooperate
with Washington, though its control of much of the country, including the port
of Barawe, 180 km south of the capital, Mogadishu, is limited by powerful armed
"We have collaboration with the world and with
neighbouring countries in the battle against al-Shabaab," Prime Minister
Abdi Farah Shirdon said when asked of Somalia's role in the raid.
Somali police said seven people were killed in Barawe. US
officials said their forces took no casualties but broke off the fighting to
avoid harming civilians.
A Somali intelligence official said a Chechen commander, who
might have been the Americans' target, was wounded.
In Somalia, al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab
told Reuters no senior figure was present when the Americans came ashore.
"Ordinary fighters lived in the house and they bravely counterattacked and
chased off the attackers," he said.
From Nigeria in the west, through Mali, Algeria and Libya to
Somalia and Kenya in the east, Africa has seen major attacks on its own people
and on Western economic interests, including an Algerian desert gas plant in
January and the Nairobi mall as well as the killing of the US ambassador in
Libya a year ago.
Western intelligence experts say there are growing links
among Islamist militants across North Africa, who share al-Qaeda's goal of a
strict Islamic state and the expulsion of Western interests from Muslim lands.
Liby, said to have fled Gaddafi's police state to join bin
Laden in Sudan in the 1990s before getting political asylum in Britain, may
have been part of that bid to form an operational base, analysts say.