A Navy SEAL team seized a senior leader of the Shabab militant group from his seaside villa in the Somali town of Baraawe on saturday, American officials said, in response to a deadly attack on a Nairobi shopping mall for which the group had claimed responsibility.
The Seal team stealthily approached the beachfront house by sea, seizing the unidentified target in a predawn firefight that was the most significant raid by American troops on Somali soil since commandos killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, an Aqaeda mastermind, near the same town four years ago.
Such operations by American forces are rare because they carry a high risk, and indicate that the target was high priority.
“The Baraawe raid was planned a week and half ago”, said an American security official. “It was prompted by the Westgate attack”, he added, referring to the Nairobi mall attack by militants that left more than 60 people dead.
Witnesses in the area described a firefight lasting over an hour, with helicopters called in for air support. A senior Somali government official confirmed the raid, saying “The attack was carried out by the American forces and the Somali government was pre-informed about the attack.”
A spokesman for the Shabab, which is based in Somalia, said that one of its fighters had been killed in an exchange of gunfire but that the group had beaten back the attack. It was unclear whether the SEAL team’s target was taken alive or killed, American officials said.
The F.B.I sent dozens of agents to Nairobi after the shopping mall siege to help Kenyan authorities with investigations. United States officials fear that the Shabab could attempt a similar attack on American soil, perhaps employing several of the group’s Somali-American recruits.
A witness in Baraawe said the house was known as a place where senior foreign commanders stayed, though he could not say whether they were there at the time of the attack. The witness said 12 well trained Shabab fighters scheduled for a mission abroad were staying there at the time of the assault.
There was some confusion as to exactly what happened before sunrise on saturday. Witnesses described the SEAL team using silencers in the initial attack, but a loud firefight afterward. Before confirmation that an American SEAL team was behind the attack, a Shabab spokesman said British and Turkish forces were involved, which both countries immediately denied.
“The attackers were not able to enter the house,” the spokesman, Sheik Abdiaziz Abu Musab, said in a telephone interview. “Our fighters were fighting very hard.”
Culled from BBC Africa
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