In twin raids in Africa on Saturday, U.S. commandos captured two of the world’s most-wanted terrorists – a senior al Qaeda official who allegedly planned 1998 embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania and a “high-level target” from Somalia’s al Shabaab, sources tell NBC News.
Al-Qaeda linked al-shabab recruits walk down a street on March 5, 2012 in the Deniile district of Somalian capital, Mogadishu, following their graduation. (Photo by Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. commandos launched daring twin raids in Libya and Somalia on Saturday, capturing a senior al Qaeda official who allegedly planned 1998 embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, the Pentagon said.
Anas al Libi, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed Nabih al-Ruqai’I, was seized in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, the Pentagon said. He has been wanted for more than a decade by the U.S. and has a $5 million reward on his head.
The outcome of a separate raid on the Somali town of Barawe was less clear. U.S. officials said it was aimed at a “high value” target from the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab movement, but spokesman George Little said the Pentagon was “not prepared to provide additional detail at this time.”
The Somali raid was carried out by members of SEAL Team Six, the same unit that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout in 2011, another senior U.S. military official said told The Associated Press.
Anas al Libi, a suspected terrorist, is shown in this photo released by the FBI Oct 10, 2001 in Washington, D.C.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the raids sent the message that terrorists “can run but they can’t hide.”
“I want to thank and congratulate the quality and courage of those young Americans who took part in [the] operations,” he told reporters in Indonesia where he was traveling. “We hope that this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror.”
Relatives of al Libi told The Associated Press he was seized by gunmen in a three-car convoy while he was parking his car outside his house. Al Libi’s brother, Nabih, told the AP that abductors smashed his car’s window, seizing his gun before grabbing him and fleeing.
Nabih also told the agency that al Libi’s wife witnessed the kidnapping from a window and described the gunmen as foreign-looking armed “commandos.”
Little said al Libi was “currently lawfully detained by the U.S. military in a secure location outside of Libya.”
However, Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan called al Libi’s capture a “kidnapping” and demanded that U.S. authorities “provide an explanation” for the raid.
Al Libi has been a member of al Qaeda since at least 1994 and was a confidante of Osama bin Laden. He also is a computer expert for the group and is believed to be one of the masterminds of the 1998 U.S. Embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 12 Americans and more than 220 Kenyans. He has been indicted in New York in connection with the attacks and could ultimately be brought to the U.S. to stand trial.
The indictment alleges that al Libi and other members of al Qaeda discussed an attack against the embassy in Nairobi in late 1993. He is alleged to have conducted visual and photographic surveillance of the embassy that year. He is also accused of plotting in 1994 for attacks against the building then housing the U.S. Agency for International Development in Nairobi and against British, French and Israeli targets in Nairobi.
Read the federal indictment of al Libi
According to an FBI listing of most wanted terrorists, al Libi was born in Tripoli and used birthdates of March 30, 1964, and May 14, 1964. He had lived in Britain, where he had political asylum, and was arrested there in 1999 – then freed because no evidence could be found to hold him, according to a report in the Telegraph newspaper.
In 2002, there were reports that he had been killed in Afghanistan or arrested by the Sudanese government, but U.S. officials denied those reports.
Raid in Somalia
In discussing the raid in Barawe, Somalia, sources initially declined to identify the target of the operation but later acknowledged that the U.S. forces were looking for the leader of al Shabaab, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Godane, but did not capture him. There were conflicting reports on whether any al Shabaab leaders were killed in the operation.
Little said late Saturday: “I can confirm that yesterday, October 4, U.S. military personnel were involved in a counterterrorism operation against a known al Shabaab terrorist. We are not prepared to provide additional detail at this time.”
An American official told NBC News no U.S. personnel were injured or killed in the operation.
Early reports from the region said there was heavy gunfire during an assault by foreign forces on a building or complex in the southern Somali town of Barawe.
Al Shabaab, which is aligned with al Qaeda and based in Somalia, had claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack on the Westgate shopping mall that killed dozens of people in Nairobi, Kenya, two weeks ago.
U.S. Special Operations forces previously staged at least one other raid near Barawe.
On Sept. 14, 2009, a helicopter commando assault near the town killed alleged al-Qaida member Saleh Ali Nabhan, also suspected in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2002 bombing of a resort hotel in Mombasa, Kenya.
He 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 News reported at the time.
NBC News’ Courtney Kube, Catherine Chomiak, Gil Aegerter and Alastair Jamieson also contributed to this report.