WASHINGTON - U.S. forces launched raids in Libya and Somalia today following the deadly attack on a Nairobi shopping mall last month, capturing a top al-Qaeda figure wanted for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, a U.S. official said.
Senior al-Qaeda figure Anas al Liby was seized in the raid in Libya, but no militant was captured in the raid on the Somali town of Barawe, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Liby, believed to be 49, had been indicted in the United States for his alleged role in the East Africa embassy bombings that killed 224 people.
The U.S. government had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture, under the State Department's Rewards for Justice program.
The New York Times quoted a senior U.S. official as saying that a U.S. Navy SEAL team was believed to have killed a senior leader of al Shabaab in a raid on his seaside villa in Somalia but was forced to withdraw before that could be confirmed.
The paper said U.S. officials initially reported that the commandos had seized the Shabaab leader, but later backed off that account.
“The Barawe raid was planned a week and a half ago,” the paper quoted an unnamed U.S. security official as saying.
“It was prompted by the Westgate attack,” he added, referring to a militant assault on a Nairobi shopping mall two weeks ago in which at least 67 people were killed.
The Times quoted witnesses as saying that the firefight lasted more than an hour, with helicopters called in for air support.
The Times report quoted a spokesman for al Shabaab as saying that one of its fighters had been killed in an exchange of gunfire but that the group had beaten back the assault.
The paper said 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.”
Earlier, al Shabaab militants said British and Turkish special forces had raided Barawe overnight, killing a rebel fighter, but that a British officer had also been killed and others wounded.
Britain's Defence Ministry said it was not aware of any such British involvement. A Turkish Foreign Ministry official also denied any Turkish part in such an action.
A Somali intelligence official said the target of the raid at Barawe was a Chechen commander, who had been wounded and his guard killed. Police said a total of seven people were killed.