TRIPOLI/MOGADISHU: Two U.S. raids in Africa show the United States is pressuring Al-Qaeda, officials said Sunday, though a failure in Somalia and an angry response in Libya also highlighted Washington’s problems.
In Tripoli, U.S. forces snatched a Libyan wanted over the bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi 15 years ago and whisked him out of the country, prompting Secretary of State John Kerry to declare that Al-Qaeda leaders “can run but they can’t hide.”
But the capture of Nazih al-Ruqai, better known as Abu Anas al-Libi, also provoked a complaint about the “kidnap” from the Western-backed prime minister; he faces a backlash from armed Islamists who have carved out a share of power since the West helped Libyan rebels oust Moammar Gadhafi two years ago.
In Somalia, Navy SEALs stormed ashore into the Al-Shabab stronghold of Barawe in response to the attack last month on a Kenyan mall but, a U.S. official said, they failed to capture or kill the unnamed target among the Somali allies of Al-Qaeda.
Kerry said President Barack Obama’s administration was “pleased with the results” of the combined assaults early Saturday. “We hope this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror,” he said.
Two years after Navy SEALs finally tracked down and killed Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, a decade after Al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. in 2001, the twin operation demonstrated the reach of U.S. military forces in Africa, where Islamist militancy has been in the ascendant.
The forays also threw a spotlight on Somalia’s status as a fragmented haven for Al-Qaeda allies more than 20 years after Washington intervened in vain in its civil war and Libya’s descent into an anarchic battleground between rival bands on the Mediterranean that stretches deep south into the Sahara.Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said they showed Washington would “spare no effort to hold terrorists accountable.”
Clearly aware of the risks to his government of complicity in the snatching of Libi as he returned to his suburban home from dawn prayers, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said: “The Libyan government has contacted U.S. authorities to ask them to provide an explanation.”
Libi’s son, Abdullah al-Ruqai, 19, told reporters at the family home that men had pulled up in four cars, knocked him out with some kind of drug, dragged him from his vehicle and driven off with him in a Mercedes.
“They had a Libyan look and Libyan accents,” he said. It was not clear, however, whether the men were connected to the Libyan state, which may either have sought to keep its distance or been sidelined by Washington for fear of leaks.
Abdul-Bassit Haroun, a former Islamist militia commander who works with the Libyan government on security, said the U.S. raid would show Libya was no refuge for “international terrorists.”
“But it is also very bad that no state institutions had the slightest information about this process, nor do they have a force which was able to capture him,” he told Reuters. “This means the Libyan state simply does not exist.”
He warned that Islamist militants, like those blamed for the fatal attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi a year ago, would hit back violently: “There will be a strong reaction in order to take revenge because this is one of the most important Al-Qaeda figures.”
Somalia’s Western-backed government said it did cooperate with Washington, though its control of much of the country, including the port of Barawe, just 180 km south of the capital Mogadishu, is limited by powerful armed groups.
Somali police said seven people were killed in Barawe. U.S. officials said their forces took no casualties but had broken off the fighting to avoid harming civilians. They failed to capture or kill their target during fighting around dawn at a seaside villa that Al-Shabab said was one of its bases.