Home inContext U.S. Special Forces Raid Targets in Libya and Somalia

U.S. Special Forces Raid Targets in Libya and Somalia

Hannah Schaeffer

U.S. Special Operations forces secretly captured alleged al-Qaeda operative Nazih Abdul Hamed al-Ruqai in Tripoli on Saturday. The operation in Libyan capital took place while U.S. Navy SEALs raided a compound in Somalia in a failed attempt to find senior al-Shabab commander Mohamed Abdikadir Mohamed.

After commandos captured al-Ruqai, more commonly referred to as Anas al-Libi, the military transferred him to a navy ship waiting in the Mediterranean Sea. Officials in Tripoli expressed outrage at the “kidnapping” of a Libyan citizen as Washington never asked for his extradition. Al-Libi, who was among the top remaining leaders of al-Qaeda and an elusive friend of Osama bin Laden, is wanted in connection with the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.

A undated file photo of Anas al-Libi. (Photo: AFP)

A State Department official said that investigators would treat al-Libi “humanely” as they interrogate him on board the USS San Antonio. Under military custody, laws of war allow the U.S. to hold such an enemy combatant indefinitely. Eventually, prosecutors hope to try him in New York criminal court, where has already been indicted.

Meanwhile an intense and sustained gunfight unfolded between U.S. Navy SEALS and local fighters in Somalia as they tried to capture Abdikadir Mohamed. Also known as Ikrimah, the al-Qaeda linked commander has been responsible for recruiting westerners for al-Shabaab terrorist operations. The Somali based terrorist group recently claimed responsibility for last month’s deadly attack in Kenya’s Westgate mall. Ikrimah was not captured, and there is no evidence that he was among the dead fighters casualties. Unlike the Libyans, Russia Today reported that the Muqdisho knew about the raid before hand.

U.S. officials said both operations were lawful under war powers that Congress granted the President branch after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry defended the operations, stating “the United States of America will never stop in the effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror.”

The weekends operations also highlight another important trend, the moving of counter-terrorism operations from the CIA to the military. According to an unnamed U.S. official in The Los Angeles Times, the government hopes to limit drone strikes, instead trying to capture high value targets. In the long run, a greater reliance on the Pentagon for secret operations against al-Qaeda could provide more accountability and intelligence information than operations launched by other intelligence agencies.