U.S. Special Forces Operation In Libya Nabs Al-Qaida Suspect

The United States military struck twice over the weekend in Africa. Commando raids in Somalia and Libya targeted terrorists. The mission in Libya resulted in the capture of a top al-Qaida operative. He was a key figure in bombings of two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania back in 1998. The outcome in Somalia is not as clear.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. The United States military struck twice over the weekend in Africa. Commando raids in Somalia and Libya targeted terrorists.

MONTAGNE: The mission in Libya resulted in the capture of a top al-Qaida operative. The outcome in Somalia is not as clear, and we'll hear more about that in a moment.

INSKEEP: First, NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is in our studios. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

MONTAGNE: And good morning, Tom. Let me start by asking you about that first Libya raid. Who was the target?

BOWMAN: Well, Renee, the target was a man named Abu Anas al-Libi. He was a key figure in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa - Kenya and Tanzania - back in 1998. U.S. officials say he took part in planning those operations. Now, that was a big opening salvo for al-Qaida back then, and that was before even most people in the general public knew who al-Qaida was.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

BOWMAN: And this person - al-Libi - has been wanted for years. There's a $5 million bounty on his head, and he's already been indicted in New York for his role in the attacks.

INSKEEP: OK. So now he's in U.S. custody. How, exactly, did they capture him?

BOWMAN: Well, eyewitnesses say he was taken peacefully in Tripoli. There was no real sign of a struggle. His brother said that he was actually thrown into a car that sped away. There were several black SUVs, I guess. And we're told that U.S. Special Operations commandos took part in this, along with FBI and CIA officials. There's some indication that al-Libi moved about fairly openly. There's no indication of heavy security or a secret compound, like Osama bin Laden had.

The Libyan government, meanwhile, said they were not made aware of the operation, and they openly criticized this. And now, of course, Pentagon officials say he's now at a secure location outside Libya. They expect to have him go to New York, at this point.

INSKEEP: He got out of the country some way. The United States had some way to get him out of there besides just taking him out through the airport, I suppose.

BOWMAN: One would think they had some sort of aircraft nearby, to spirit him out of the country. And again, he's on his way to New York, officials say.

INSKEEP: OK.

MONTAGNE: Now, that was one operation. The result seems less clear with an operation against al-Shabab in Somalia. The group, of course, is behind the killings at that shopping mall in Kenya last month.

BOWMAN: That's right. In the Somalia raid, we know Navy SEALs were involved. They targeted seaside villages south of the capital, Mogadishu.We're told there was an intense firefight for an hour or so; attack helicopters were brought in. There were some al-Shabab casualties; no U.S. casualties. But it's not clear at this point who among the al-Shabab forces was killed.

U.S. officials say the Navy SEALs broke contact. One reason was, there was a concern about civilian casualties. Now, the target of the raid, as NPR reported yesterday, was a man who goes by the name Ikrima. And our correspondent in Africa, Greg Warner, got that name from a security official there. And then I was able to confirm the name of Ikrima last night; that he was, indeed, the target.

Now, he's a Kenyan of Somali origin who ran groups of fighters in Somalia. They've taken part in attacks on churches in Kenya, and also attacks on civilians, with roadside bombs and grenades. Again, he was a target of the raid; but we don't know if he was killed, captured, or is still on the loose.

INSKEEP: You mention Gregory Warner. We're going to go to him in a moment. But very briefly, was this attack a direct response to this attack on the shopping mall in Kenya last month?

BOWMAN: You know, we don't know, at this point. We're told this raid was planned after the shopping mall attack. But whether it was directly related to the shopping mall, we're not sure. It could have been just been a target of opportunity.

INSKEEP: OK. Tom, stay with us.

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