Image: Saleh Ali Nabhan
AFP - Getty Images file
Authorities say Saleh Ali Nabhan, seen in this 2002 photo, was the person who bought the car used to blow up a Mombasa hotel on Nov. 28, 2002.
NBC News and news services
updated 9/14/2009 3:10:27 PM ET 2009-09-14T19:10:27

American special operations forces killed an al-Qaida terrorist during a helicopter commando assault in Somalia on Monday, NBC News reported.

U.S. officials told NBC that Saleh Ali Nabhan, suspected in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2002 bombing of a resort hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, was killed when at least one U.S. special operations helicopter opened fire on a suspected al-Qaida convoy south of Mogadishu.

Ali Nabhan was also suspected of operating al-Qaida training camps inside Somalia, NBC reported.

Two men were killed and two others wounded when foreign troops in helicopters strafed a car in a Somali town controlled by Islamist insurgents, The Associated Press reported.

The commando-style action took place in a village near Barawe amid growing fears that al-Qaida is gaining a foothold in this lawless nation.

Two U.S. military officials said forces from the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command were involved. The officials gave no official details about the raid or its target.

Many experts fear Somalia is becoming a haven for al-Qaida, a place for terrorists to train and gather strength — much like Afghanistan in the 1990s. The U.N.-backed government, with support from African Union peacekeepers, holds only a few blocks of Mogadishu, the war-ravaged capital.

Last year, U.S. missiles killed reputed al-Qaida commander Aden Hashi Ayro — the first major success after a string of U.S. military attacks in 2008.

Witness account
Like much of Somalia, Barawe and its surrounding villages are controlled by the militant group al-Shabab, which the U.S. accuses of having ties to al-Qaida. Al-Shabab, which has foreign fighters in its ranks, seeks to overthrow the government and impose a strict form of Islam in Somalia.

Witness Abdi Ahmed said six helicopters buzzed the village before two of the aircraft opened fire. After the helicopters fired, soldiers in military fatigues got out and left with the two wounded men.

"There was only a burning vehicle and two dead bodies lying beside it," said Mohamed Ali Aden, a bus driver who drove past the burnt-out car minutes after the attack, some 155 miles south of Mogadishu.

Somalia's weak government has very few resources and does not have helicopters or other modern equipment.

Witness Dahir Ahmed said the helicopters took off from a warship flying a French flag, but that could not be confirmed and French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck denied the attack was a French operation.

"They are not French helicopters," he said. France previously has launched commando raids to rescue French nationals.

Ravaged by violence
The U.S. government — haunted by the deadly 1993 U.S. military assault in Mogadishu chronicled in the 1999 book "Black Hawk Down," made into a 2001 film — is trying to neutralize the growing terrorist threat without sending in troops.

Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other. A moderate Islamist was elected president in January in hopes that he could unite the country's feuding factions, but the violence has continued unabated.

Mogadishu sees near-daily battles between government and insurgent forces. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.

Somalia's lawlessness also has allowed piracy to flourish off its coast, making the Gulf of Aden one of the most dangerous waterways in the world. 

More on: Somalia

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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