The target of a daring raid by U.S. Navy SEAL’s in Somalia was a Kenyan born fighter with the al Qaeda-linked group al Shabaab known as "Ikrima" officials said Monday, as questions remained about why the mission was ultimately unsuccessful.
Members of SEAL Team Six, the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout in 2011, aborted the mission to capture the terror suspect whose real name is Abdikadar Mohamed Abdikadar.
U.S. officials told Reuters their forces took no casualties, but broke off the fighting to avoid harming civilians. Somali police meanwhile, said seven people were killed in the raid that had the backing of the country’s Western backed government, according to the agency.
Regime influence across much of the country including Barawe, a port city around 110 miles south of the capital Mogadishu, is limited by powerful armed groups, including al-Shabaab.
Abdikadar was named in a Kenyan government intelligence document as the coordinator of a number of planned attacks, including a plot to target Kenya's parliament building and the U.N. office in Nairobi, as well as an Ethiopian restaurant patronized by Somali government officials, the Associated Press reported.
In the past, the high-value target was linked with now-dead al Qaeda operatives Harun Fazul and Saleh Nabhan who had roles in the 1998 American Embassy bombing in Nairobi and in the 2002 attacks on a hotel and airline in Mombasa, U.S. officials said.
Militants from al Shabaab, who claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack on the Westgate shopping mall that killed dozens of people in Nairobi, Kenya, two weeks ago, denied that such a target was in Somalia.
“The apostate Somali government is nothing in Somalia. No one asked them for permission to carry out the attack,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s spokesman for military operations, told Reuters.
He added, “Normal fighters lived in the house, and they bravely counter-attacked and chased the attackers."
Still the aborted United States mission could allow al Shabaab to claim a propaganda win, said Dirk Vandewalle, a professor of government at Dartmouth College and expert on the region.
“They portray it as a victory over the U.S. — the United States, with all its technology, wasn’t capable of getting the man that they wanted,” he said.
On the other hand, he said, even the attempted raid is certain to have rattled the organization, and the United States is likely to spread the word — true or not — that it was tipped by al Shabaab insiders.
“In a sense, there is an upside to it. There’ll be a lot of questioning inside the organization,” he said. “The whole point is you want to destabilize them, keep them off their feet.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.