On Monday, United States Secretary of State John Kerry defended the capture of an alleged al-Qaeda leader who was apprehended on Saturday during two raids that were carried out by US commandos in Libya and Somalia. The US Secretary of State has indicated that the operations in Libya and Somalia showed that the US would never stop “in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror.”
On Saturday, the Pentagon confirmed that US commandos captured an alleged al-Qaeda leader, Anas al-Libi, who has been suspected of masterminding the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa. His capture was confirmed by his son, Abdullah al-Raghie, who stated that his father was seized by masked gunmen in Tripoli early on Saturday as he was parking outside his house after returning from morning prayers. He has claimed that the Libyan government was implicated in his father’s disappearance, however officials in Tripoli have denied any involvement.
Amidst calls by officials in Libya on Sunday to receive an explanation pertaining to the special forces raid on its territory, US Secretary of State John Kerry defended the capture, stating on Monday that Anas al-Libi was a “legal and appropriate target.” Speaking to the media on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Indonesia, the Secretary of State further noted that “with respect to Anas al-Libi, he is a key al-Qaeda figure, and he is a legal and an appropriate target for the US military.” When questioned whether the United States had informed Libya prior to the raid, Kerry refused to confirm or deny, stating only that “we don’t get into the specifics of our communications with a foreign government on any kind of operation of this kind.” The operation to capture Libi has drawn fury from the Libyan government, which has since stated that the operation was unauthorized and that Libi had been kidnapped. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s office has also stated that the Prime Minister has requested full clarification on the raid, stressing that Libya was “keen on prosecuting any Libyan citizen inside Libya.”
According to sources, Anas al-Libi, 49 and whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, was married with a daughter and three sons, one of whom was killed in a battle with pro-Kadhafi forces when the rebels entered Tripoli in October 2011. Libi, a computer specialist, left Libya during the early 1990’s when Kadhafi was cracking down on Islamist groups. During that time, Libi joined Bin Laden’s terror organization in Sudan and would later follow the group to Afghanistan before securing political asylum in Britain in 2000. He is believed to have been one of the masterminds behind the 1998 US embassy attacks, which killed more than 200 people in Kenya and Tanzania. On 7 August 1998, a car bomb explosion outside the American embassy in Nairobi killed 213 people, and wounded 5,000. Almost simultaneously, a truck laden with explosives detonated outside the US mission in Tanzania, killed 11 people and leaving another 70 wounded. Al-Qaeda later claimed responsibility for both attacks. When a US court indicted him in connection with the bombings, he fled to Pakistan. Sources have indicated that he returned to Libya shortly after the outbreak of the revolt against Kadhafi, and probably would have fought against the rebels who ousted the longtime dictator.
Libi has been on the FBI’s most wanted list for more than a decade with a US $5 million (£3.1 m) bounty on his head. The raid to capture him came as Western Intelligence agencies increasingly feared that he had been tasked with forming an al-Qaeda network in Libya. According to a US official, shortly after the raid, Libi was taken to a US Navy warship in the region, where he was being questioned. This was confirmed by the Pentagon, which stated that he was being “lawfully detained under the law of war in a secure location” outside Libya. The operation in Tripoli ended a thirteen-year manhunt for Libi who was one of the last remaining high-level operatives from the core terror network that was established by bin Laden in the 1990‘s. His arrest paves the way for his extradition to New York to face trial.
With authorities and officials in Libya insisting that they were unaware of the US operation, the capture of the senior al-Qaeda militant is definitely an embarrassment for the fledgling government and could result in outrage amongst the country’s Islamist extremists. While authorities in Libya have been struggling to assert control over the countless numbers of militias that emerged during the 2011 uprising against Moamer Kadhafi, many militias have refused to disarm and effectively now control large portions of the country. Some of the militias in question include hardline Islamists who have accused the post-Kadhafi government of being too close to the West. In turn, reactions to his capture in Libya have been mixed, effectively demonstrating the divide in the country amongst Islamists and their secular opponents.
While the operation in Libya achieved its objective, it remains unclear whether the raid on a beachfront villa in southern Somalia was a success.
On Saturday, US commandos carried out an operation to capture one of the leaders of al-Shabaab however unconfirmed reports have indicated that SEAL commandos were forced to withdraw before confirming the kill. Reports have indicated that the mission was aborted after the commandos encountered fierce resistance from al-Shabaab fighters. The operation, which was carried out by members of SEAL Team Six, the same unit that killed Osama Bin Laden, occured Barawe, which is located 180 kilometers (110 miles) south of the capital city of Mogadishu. A US official has identified the militant as Ikrima, a Kenyan of Somali origin, however Washington has yet to formally name the intended target. When asked on Sunday as to whether officials in Somalia had been aware of the raid, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid stated that “our co-operation with international partners on fighting against terrorism is not a secret.”
In response to the raid, an al-Shabaab military operations spokesman, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a fighter was killed during the raid. Al-Shabaab’s commander in the southern Somali port of Barawe, Mohamed Abu Suleiman, also noted that “the enemy of Allah tried to surprise the mujahedeen commanders with a night attack using a military helicopter, but they were taught a lesson and they have failed.” Residents of Barawe reported they were woken by heavy gunfire before dawn prayers and some of them saw commandos, presumed to be from a Western nation, rappelling from a helicopter and attempting to storm a house belonging to a senior al-Shabaab commander. Local media has also reported that two helicopters were involved in the raid. By Saturday morning, residents reported that al-Shabaab militants were heavily deployed on the streets of the town.
The raid comes shortly after al-Shabaab confirmed that it had carried out last month’s attack on the Westgate shopping centre in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, leaving at least sixty-seven people dead. Sources have indicated that while Ikrimah was not linked to that attack, the raid has prompted fears that the target could be planning a similar assault on other Western targets in the region.
Multiple nations currently operation Special Forces in the wider Horn of Africa region, and many have carried out similar missions in the past. In recent years, both US and French Special Forces have carried out raids on coastal targets in Somalia. Last year, US Navy Seals flying at least six military helicopters carried out an operation to rescue two aid workers held by pirates in northern Somalia. Washington has also used drones in Somalia to support the local government and African Union (AU) forces in their battle against al-Shabaab militants. And earlier this year, France carried out an unsuccessful raid to free a French intelligence agent. On 12 January, elite French forces carried out an overnight operation, involving some fifty troops and at least five helicopters, in southern Somalia. Two French commandos were killed and al-Shabaab later reported that it had killed the agent. With minimal information being released pertaining to Saturday’s raid, it currently remains unclear whether either of these countries was involved. Furthermore, Western navies are present in the region, patrolling the seas off Somalia, which has been beset by conflict for more than two decades. While they have been tasked with fighting piracy, in 2009, US Navy commandos attacked and killed an al-Qaeda leader, Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Nabhan, during a daylight raid on Barawe.
On Monday, Kenyan security forces announced that they were attempting to clear the Westgate shopping complex in Nairobi after a three-day siege.
Earlier on Monday, sources outside the Westgate shopping centre reported that explosions and heavy gunfire were heard as soldiers stormed the mall where suspected al-Shabaab militants are thought to be holed up. The Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) have also indicated that three terrorists had been killed and that all escape routes inside the centre have been sealed off. Flames and thick smoke continues to rise from the building, with KDF officials stating that the fire had been started by “terrorists to distract the ongoing operation.” The blaze is currently being managed by firefighters. On the ground sources have reported that the attack was carried out by ten to fifteen militants, with officials stating that some of them are still on the run, hiding in shops. The Kenyan government has also stated that almost all of the hostages have been evacuated from the shopping centre, however it remains unclear whether any are still in the hands of the militants. This may be one of the reasons why authorities are moving cautiously in an attempt to ensure that there is no further loss of life. Security has increased throughout the country. The Interior Ministry has issued regular warning for people to stay away from the area for their own safety. Security at entrance and exit points across the country has also been stepped up, with the ministry confirming that “more than ten individuals” have been arrested in relation to the attack.
Three Day Siege Began on Saturday
The official death toll stands at 62, with more than 170 injured. Eleven KDF soldiers have also been injured during the operation The three-day siege started on Saturday when militants entered the Westgate centre at about 12:00 local time (09:00 GMT), throwing grenades and firing automatic weapons. Although dozens of shoppers fled the scene, many remained trapped inside. Some witnesses reported on Saturday that the gunmen had told Muslims to leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted. In a nationally televised address on Saturday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta indicated that the operation to secure the mall and catch the gunmen was ongoing. As on the ground sources reported that officers were going from shop to shop in order to secure the area, a senior al-Shabaab figure confirmed that the militant group was responsible for carrying out the deadly attack on the shopping centre. On its Twitter account, al-Shabaab stated that it was behind what it called the “Westgate spectacle,” adding that the attack was in response to Kenya’s ongoing presence in Somalia. Some seven hours after the initial assault began, al-Shabaab indicated on its Twitter account that its fighters were still battling Kenyan security forces inside the Westgate centre. However a security source had indicated that police and soldiers had finally “pinned down” the gunmen in one corner of the shopping centre after several hours of fighting. Kenyan officials also stated that four gunmen have been arrested and that one died of his wounds.
On Sunday, Kenya’s President stated that the country would remain united and strong in the wake of the deadly attack. The announcement came as witnesses outside a security cordon reported gunfire and a large explosion, with increased gunfire occurring around 16:00 GMT on Sunday. Between ten and fifteen attackers, all believed to be al-Shabaab militants, were still inside the complex along with some civilians who are still trapped, either as hostages or in hiding. Some reports have indicated that the gunmen are holed up in a supermarket and that there are a number of women who have been reported to be amongst the attackers, however these reports have yet to be confirmed. Al-Shabaab has claimed that there are currently at least thirty-six hostages being held inside the complex, however this number cannot be confirmed. During a news conference on Sunday Kenya’s President stated that “the criminals are now located in one place within the building,” adding that “with the professionals on site, we have as good a chance to neutralize the terrorists as we could hope for.” He also thanked those who helped with the rescue efforts, and asked other countries not to issue travel advisories against visiting Kenya
Amongst the confirmed dead are Mr. Kenyatta’s nephew and his fiancee. The UK Foreign Office has also confirmed that three Britons have been killed, noting that the number is likely to rise. French, Chinese, Ghanaian, Dutch, South African, Indian and Canadian nationals are also among the foreigners confirmed killed, along with a dual Australian-British national. The wife of an American working for the US Agency for International Development was also killed along with prominent Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor, who was attending a literary festival in Nairobi.
Who are al-Shabaab
Al-Shabaab, which is based in Somalia, has links to al-Qaeda and although the Somali government has pushed the militant group out of a majority of the main towns it once controlled in southern and central Somalia, this latest deadly attack carried out on a shopping centre in neighbouring Kenya proves that the militant group remains a potent threat.
In Arabic, al-Shabaab means “the youth.” The group emerged in 2006 as the radical youth wing of Somali’s now obsolete Union of Islamic Courts was fighting Ethiopian troops who had entered into Somalia in order to back the weak interim government. It is banned as a terrorist group by both the United States and the United Kingdom. There have been numerous reports that foreign jihadists have travelled to Somalia in order to help al-Shabaab which strives to impose a strict form of Sharia law in those areas under its control. Al-Shabaab’s version of Sharia law includes stoning to death women who have been accused of adultery as well as amputating the hands of thieves.
While over the past two years, al-Shabaab has lost control of the towns and cities thorughout central and southern Somalia, the militant group continues to control many rural areas in the region. The group was forced out of the capital city of Mogadishu in August 2011 and in September 2012, they left the vital southern port of Kismayo. The port city had been a key asset for the militants as it effectively allowed supplies to reach areas under their control, providing taxes for their operations. While the African Union (AU), which is currently supporting Somali government forces, hailed the withdrawal of al-Shabaab from Kismayo and Mogadishu as a great success, the militant group continues to carry out frequent attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere. Furthermore, although they have lost control of the major cities, al-Shabaab has increasingly been focusing on a guerrilla style of warfare that has effectively made the group more potent.
Rarely seen in public, Ahmed Abdi Godane is the head of the group. Also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, al-Shabaab’s leader comes from the northern breakaway region of Somaliland. He is known for his hardline and international agenda and is responsible for the group’s close links with al-Qaeda. Godane announced in February 2012 that al-Shabaab joined forces with al-Qaeda. In a joint video, Godane stated that he “pledged obedience” to al-Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri.
While the group has carried out a number of attacks within Somalia, with attacks increasing in recent months, al-Shabaab has carried out deadly attacks outside of the country as well. The most recent was carried out on a shopping centre in Nairobi, Kenya on 21 September, in which at least sixty-eight people were killed. It was responsible for a double suicide bombing in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, which killed seventy-six people who were watching the 2010 football World Cup final on television. The attack was carried out because Uganda, along with Burundi, were responsible for providing the bulk of AU troops in Somalia prior to Kenya sending in its own troops. The 2002 twin attacks on Israeli targets near the Kenyan resort of Mombasa were allegedly planned in Somalia by an al-Qaeda cell, while officials in the US believe that some of the al-Qaeda operatives responsible for carrying out the 1998 attacks on its embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam fled to Somalia shortly after the attacks.
Two Spanish aid workers, who were kidnapped in Kenya nearly two years ago and held in neighbouring Somalia, have been freed according to their employer.
In a statement that was released by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the organization confirmed that the two women are both “safe and healthy and keen to join their loved ones as soon as possible….Once again, MSF strongly condemns this attack on humanitarian workers who were in Dadaab offering life saving medical assistance to thousands of refugees.” MSF indicated that it would give any further details before a press conference which has been scheduled in Madrid on Friday.
Montserrat Serra (40) and Blanca Thiebaut (30) were kidnapped on 13 October 2011 by gunmen who opened fire on their vehicle inside the Dadaab refugee camp complex. Their Kenyan driver was shot and wounded. At the time of the kidnapping, Kenyan police had stated that they had been seized by members of Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabaab group, however no group has actually claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Just days later, Kenya deployed its troops into neighbouring Somalia in order to fight al-Shabaab militants.
Dadaab, said to be the world’s largest refugee camp, houses some 500,000 people who have fled years of conflict and drought across the border in Somalia. MSF, which at the time of the kidnapping had 49 foreign and 343 local staff in Dadaab, has since reduced its activity there to a minimum. Both women were working as logisticians for MSF in Dadaab. Ms. Serra, a qualified teacher from Girona, Spain, had been working in Kenya for two months before she was kidnapped. She had previously worked on aid projects in Latin America and Yemen. Ms. Thiebaut, from Madrid, had recently completed a degree at the London School of Economics and is an agricultural engineer by training.
The abduction of the Spaniards followed the kidnapping of a French woman and a British woman from the Kenyan coast near the Somali border. Briton Judith Tebbut, in her late fifties, was seized from a remote Kenyan resort on 11 September 2011, by armed men who killed her husband David. She was released in March 2012 after being held for more than six months. A ransom was reportedly paid by her son. Marie Dedieu, 66 and partially paralyzed, was seized from her beachfront home in the Lamu archipelago on 1 October 2011. She was reported dead later that month, with French officials stating that the death was probably due to her having been deprived of essential medication by her kidnappers. On 25 October 2011, two aid workers with the Danish Refugee Council were seized by armed men in Galkayo in north-central Somalia. They were freed during a raid that was launched by US Commandos in January 2012. Meanwhile in January of this year, al-Shabaab fighters killed a French hostage, an intelligence agent known under the pseudonym Denis Allex who was held since 2009, during a botched rescue attempt by French forces. A colleague of Mr. Allex, who was kidnapped at the same time, managed to escape in August 2009. A Briton and Kenyan, who were employed by an Indian subcontractor of a UN agency and who were kidnapped in southern Somalia in 2008, are feared dead. While an American national kidnapped in January 2012 is still being held.
Meanwhile thirty-nine seamen of various nationalities from the Naham 3, a fishing vessel that was captured in March 2012, along with crew members from two other boats, are still being held in Somalia. The fate of a further fifteen crew members, whose vessel, the MV Albedo, sunk early last week, remains unknown.
An apparently accidental publication of a diplomatic letter has exposed a rift between the Somali Federal Government and Kenyan troops. The letter accuses the Kenyan army of causing recent faction fighting, which has left at least sixty-five dead in the southern port city of Kismayo. Kenyan troops are in Somalia as part of the African Union (AU) force who is currently battling Islamist militants in support of the United Nations-backed government. Kenyan authorities have yet to comment on the letter.
The letter, which is titled as “Extremely Urgent – Kismayo conflict,” is from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fawzia Yusuf Adam. He is also the deputy prime minister to the African Union. The letter accuses Kenyan troops, who are part of the AU’s peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, of not being neutral peacekeepers and that instead, they are attempting to create a buffer state, known as Jubbaland, within Somalia, which will be run by local politicians that they can control. It further indicates that the Kenyan Defence Force (KDF), which is backed by one Somalia faction against others, arrested a senior Somali government army officer and used heavy weapons in civilian areas. According to the letter, the “incompetence” of the Kenyan commander of AMISOM in southern Somalia is said to have caused an outbreak of recent fighting in the southern port city of Kismayo which has led to a “preliminary” count of 65 dead and 155 injured. According to on-the-ground reports in Mogadishu, the letter appears to have been emailed to journalists accidentally after someone had mistakenly included the Prime Minister’s “press contacts” into the email recipients’ list.
The letter calls for the “immediate deployment” of a multinational African peacekeeping force to take over control in southern Somalia in a bid to calm the situation, which threatens to destabilize a region of the country which continues to be threatened by al-Shabaab militants. Although the Kenyan AMISOM contingent was recently reinforced by several hundred troops from Sierra Leone, Sierra Leoneans are “embedded” inside the Kenyan units. As such, the KDF continues to be the dominating force in this region of Somalia, which has been classified by AMISOM as “Sector 2.” While the letter highlights the need for a multinational deployment in the region, it does not go as far as to say that Kenyan troops should be replaced. Instead, it pointedly states that new “political officers” should be appointed for the area “whose nationalities will be different from the AMISOM contingent in Sector 2.”
Although Kenyan authorities have not yet officially responded or made any comments pertaining to the newly released diplomatic letter, the Kenyan army has previously insisted that it was neutral in its dealing with Somalia and that it was only attempting to bring peace to its neighbor. However this is not the first time that the Kenyan troops have been accused of backing a militia force, which opposed the central Somali government in Mogadishu. Over the past several weeks, authorities in Somalia have accused Kenyan troops of supporting militia soldiers “in violation of their mandate,” as well as attacking civilians and arresting a top government army commander. These accusations culminated in the Somali government demanding several days ago that Kenyan troops stationed in Kismayo be replaced. With the accidental release of this confidential diplomatic letter, it appears that this time the Somali government’s accusation may confirm suspicions in the region that while Kenya’s troops are a part of AMISOM, they may also have their own agenda – to create a buffer zone to prevent further cross-border attacks which have plagued the border region ever since Kenya deployed its troops in Somalia in 2011. Kenyan forces seized Kismayo, which is located 480 km (300 miles) south of Mogadishu, from al-Shabaab in October 2012. Currently, there are several self-declared presidents of Jubbaland and the central government in Mogadishu does not recognize neither one of them. Although Somali and AU forces have driven al-Shabaab militants out of a number of major cities, its fighters still control the smaller towns and rural areas located in central and southern Somalia, where they have been able to launch attacks within government-controlled territory.