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In Africa terror raids, US nets big al Qaeda catch

world Updated: Oct 07, 2013 01:24 IST
HT Correspondent

US forces on Saturday captured a prized al Qaeda operative in Libya, linked to the 1998 American embassy bombings in east Africa, and struck the Somali home of a leader of the group responsible for the Kenyan mall attack in two separate operations.

Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Abu Anas al-Liby, the al Qaeda operative, was captured on the streets of Tripoli, Libya. He was wanted for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

He is “currently lawfully detained by the US military in a secure location outside of Libya”, said Pentagon press secretary George Little. He gave no other details of the operation.

Abu Anas, a Libyan who had been with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden since his Sudan days, carried a bounty of $5 million on his dead - dead or alive. He was indicted by a federal court in the Southern District of New York, for his alleged role in the bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, on August 7, 1998, that killed more than 250 people.

He was seized early Saturday after three cars pulled up next to his and their occupants - foreign-looking commandoes - forced him out of his vehicle, Abu Anas’s brother told AP. The gunmen smashed his car's window and seized his gun before grabbing him and fleeing. The brother also said al-Libi's wife saw the kidnapping from her window and described the abductors as foreign-looking armed "commandos".

Al-Libi is believed to have returned to Libya during the 2011 civil war that led to the ouster and killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Believed to be a computer specialist with al Qaeda, he studied electronic and nuclear engineering, graduating from Tripoli University, and was an anti-Gaddafi activist.

He is believed to have spent time in Sudan, where Osama bin Laden was based in the early 1990s. After bin Laden was forced to leave Sudan, al-Libi turned up in Britain in 1995 where he was granted political asylum under unclear circumstances and lived in Manchester. He was arrested by Scotland Yard in 1999, but released because of lack of evidence and later fled Britain. His name was included on the FBI's most wanted terrorists list that was introduced shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

There were a number of reports of his arrest, which were later denied by US officials. In 2007, Human Rights Watch said it believed he was among about two dozen people who may have once been held in secret CIA prisons. The group said it believed he was held in Sudan, but didn't elaborate, and said his whereabouts were later unknown.

Al-Libi's family returned to Libya a year before the revolt against Gaddafi, under an initiative by Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam who sought to reconcile with militants who renounce violence, a close friend said, refusing to identify himself because of security concerns.

The friend said al-Libi's son was killed during the civil war as rebels marched on the capital, ousting Gaddafi. His son's name is scribbled as graffiti on the walls of the street where his family resides, in an affluent neighborhood in Tripoli.

Since Gaddafi's fall, Libya has been rocked by lawlessness, as militia groups have challenged the central government's power, and assassinations and revenge attacks spread.

Last year, militants attacked the US Consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, killing the US ambassador and three other Americans. According to official documents, al-Libi is not among those wanted for that attack.

About the separate raid in Somalia, Little gave no details other than confirming that US forces were “involved in a counter terrorism operation against a known al-Shabab terrorist”.

Al-Shabab, a Somalia-based al Qaeda affiliate, was behind the Westgate shopping mall terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenya last month in which 60 people were killed.

The US operation, carried out Navy SEALs, was aimed at capturing a high value al-Shabab terrorist leader,” said a US official. But no other details were forthcoming.

The target of the raid, being called the most significant since the 2009 killing of an al Qaeda mastermind, was the seaside home of the al Shabab leader frequented by foreign fighters.

It’s in a port town called Baraawe, south of Mogadishu.

Navy SEALs came in from the Indian Ocean as dawn broke. The shooting lasted an hour, and the raiders decided to leave without confirming if they had got their target.

They were keen to avoid civilian casualties. So the SEALs “disengaged after inflicting some al Shabab casualties,” said a US official, refusing to identify them.

Although the Shebab leader was believed to have been killed during the assault, the SEALs had to withdraw before they could confirm the kill, a senior US official was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

"I can confirm that yesterday, October 4, US military personnel were involved in a counter terrorism operation against a known al-Shabaab terrorist. We are not prepared to provide additional detail at this time," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said, according to PTI.

A US official said no US personnel were injured or killed in the attack.

Al Shabab has confirmed that one of its fighters was killed in the attack.

(With inputs from AP and PTI)