Skip to main content

U.S. official: Raid's target was Al-Shabaab foreign fighter commander

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
October 7, 2013 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Kenyan officials said Ikrima helped recruit Kenyans into Al-Shabaab
  • The raid was led by members of SEAL Team Six, the unit that killed Osama bin Laden
  • The SEALs withdrew because they came under fire, a U.S. official says
  • Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for last month's Kenya mall attack

Washington (CNN) -- A pre-dawn raid by elite U.S. forces in southern Somalia, in the heart of territory controlled by the al Qaeda subsidiary Al-Shabaab, targeted an Al-Shabaab commander connected to one of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings, a senior Obama administration official said Sunday.

The suspected foreign fighter commander is named Ikrima, a Kenyan of Somali origin about whom little is known. The official said Ikrima is associated with two now-deceased al Qaeda operatives who played roles in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, and the 2002 attacks on a hotel and airline in Mombasa, also in Kenya.

A recent Kenyan intelligence report alleged that Ikrima was behind several foiled terror conspiracies against targets in Kenya between 2011 and 2013. The most recent was a plot to attack Mandera Airport in Kenya's North Eastern province in April.

Kenyan officials said last year that Ikrima had a significant role in recruiting and training Kenyans in Al-Shabaab. He is thought to have been a close associate of Saleh Ali Nabhan, a fellow Kenyan and senior al Qaeda operative in east Africa, who was killed by U.S. forces in 2009 in Somalia.

He is thought to have been a close associate of the Saleh Ali Nabhan, a fellow Kenyan and senior al Qaeda operative in east Africa, who was believed to have been connected to the embassy attacks. (Ali Nabhan was killed by U.S. forces in 2009 in Somalia.)

Relatives of Johnny Mutinda Musango, 48, weep after identifying his body at the city morgue in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday, September 24. Musango was one of the victims of the Westgate Mall hostage siege. Kenyan security forces were still combing the mall on the fourth day of the siege by al Qaeda-linked terrorists. Relatives of Johnny Mutinda Musango, 48, weep after identifying his body at the city morgue in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday, September 24. Musango was one of the victims of the Westgate Mall hostage siege. Kenyan security forces were still combing the mall on the fourth day of the siege by al Qaeda-linked terrorists.
Kenya mall attack
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Kenya mall attack Photos: Kenya mall attack
Navy SEALs raid Somali town
Video shows gunmen inside Kenya mall

Ikrima also appears to be close to Al-Shabaab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, who also goes by Ahmed Abdi Godane.

How the raid happened

U.S. Navy SEAL members traveled by sea to reach the coastal villa frequented by top Al-Shabaab commanders, storming the house early Saturday. Until Sunday, no U.S. official disclosed the target of the raid.

The SEALs' mission didn't go as planned, however. The U.S. commandos encountered heavy fire and had to withdraw, not knowing whether their target was dead or alive.

Al-Shabaab is the U.S.-designated terrorist group that claimed responsibility for last month's siege on a Kenyan shopping mall that killed 67 people.

Residents of the port city of Barawe said the home belonged to Al-Shabaab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, also known as Ahmed Abdi Godane. An Al-Shabaab spokesman had said Godane was the target of the attack.

The group said one of its fighters was killed in the attack. No SEAL members were killed or hurt, a U.S. official said.

It was one of two raids carried out by elite U.S. forces in Africa on Saturday against targets connected to the 1998 embassy bombing in Nairobi. The other was an operation in Tripoli, Libya, by the U.S. Army Delta Force against Abu Anas al Libi, indicted in the United States for helping to plan the Nairobi embassy attack.

Delta Force members captured al Libi, who will eventually be taken to New York to face federal charges.

In the 2002 attacks, three suicide bombers detonated a car bomb outside the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, killing the bombers as well as 12 Kenyans and three Israelis. The same morning, a missile attack unsuccessfully targeted an Israeli airliner taking off from Mombasa's airport.

Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for both Mombasa attacks.

U.S. forces strike in Libya, Somalia, capture al Qaeda operative

'Most wanted terrorist' al Libi nabbed in native Libya

Witness accounts

Residents of the port city of Barawe said about a dozen "foreign forces" went from a nearby warship to a smaller, faster boat before jumping onto the Somali mainland. Before long, the sounds of heavy gunfire and several large explosions echoed across the city, locals said.

After coming under fire, the U.S. forces -- members of the Navy special forces unit known as SEAL Team Six, the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 -- made a "prudent decision" to pull back, a senior U.S. official said.

Barawe "is a main center, if not the center" for Al-Shabaab, said Matt Bryden, the former head of the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.

"It's a big source of revenue for them. It allows for trade," said Bryden, now the director of a Kenya-based think tank, Sahan Research. They "fully control the town" and hold large exercises on the beach, including target practice and even sack races.

Once a tourist destination, the city is now an important port for charcoal, a common fuel in Somalia, Bryden said. That makes it a revenue source for the jihadists, with the charcoal trade bringing in as much as $25 million a year to Al-Shabaab, the United Nations estimated in July.

Al-Shabaab's growing menace

Al-Shabaab, designated a terrorist organization by the United States, has a relationship with al Qaeda that goes back several years. Last year, the two groups effectively merged, said CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen.

Bergen: How Al-Shabaab picks its targets

Al-Shabaab hopes to turn Somalia into a fundamentalist Islamic state but has launched attacks in other countries as well.

In 2010, Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings carried out in Kampala, Uganda, amid crowds of soccer fans watching televised screenings of the World Cup final. The bombings left 74 people dead.

The group said at the time the attacks were retaliation for Ugandan participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM. One AMISOM goal is to support Somali government forces in cracking down on Al-Shabaab.

Al-Shabaab has also mounted many smaller attacks against targets in Kenya, hurling hand grenades into nightclubs, restaurants and schools. The group has also kidnapped tourists and aid workers.

Its attack on the Westgate mall in Kenya on September 21 killed at least 67 people.

Al-Shabaab said the attack was retaliation for Kenya's involvement in the African Union effort against the group.

In recent months, Al-Shabaab's haven in south-central Somalia has been been increasingly squeezed as Kenyan forces fight the group from the south and African Union forces come down from Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

Journalist Omar Nor contributed to this report from Mogadishu, Somalia; CNN's Tim Lister, Nima Elbagir, Holly Yan, Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, Melissa Gray and Greg Botelho also contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Kenya mall attack
October 17, 2013 -- Updated 1355 GMT (2155 HKT)
As they strolled through the mall, guns strapped to their torsos, the attackers chatted on cell phones while they sprayed bullets at shoppers.
October 22, 2013 -- Updated 1132 GMT (1932 HKT)
A leaked video footage from inside has sparked anger amid claims that it shows soldiers looting from stores as they hunted for the gunmen.
October 10, 2013 -- Updated 1908 GMT (0308 HKT)
Elaine Dang pretended to be dead, and maybe because she did, she is alive to tell her story. She moved away from the crowd because she thought it would be most vulnerable.
October 7, 2013 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
U.S. Navy SEALs entered the southern Somalia stronghold of Al-Shabaab, the group behind the Kenyan mall attack, in a mission targeting one of its leaders.
September 27, 2013 -- Updated 1940 GMT (0340 HKT)
Investigators have determined the attackers or their associates rented and operated a small store in the mall a year before the Kenya mall attack.
September 26, 2013 -- Updated 2045 GMT (0445 HKT)
Propped up by strangers, a woman wails outside Nairobi's main city morgue, unable to control her grief.
September 29, 2013 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Loved ones mourn the lives lost in the Westgate mall attack. Dozens of civilians and 6 security officers died in the four-day attack.
September 24, 2013 -- Updated 2058 GMT (0458 HKT)
The attack at Westgate mall lasted for four deadly days, with store-to-store siege.
September 27, 2013 -- Updated 0038 GMT (0838 HKT)
There is evidence that replicating the 2008 Mumbai, India, attacks has become a major priority for al-Shabaab and al Qaeda.
September 28, 2013 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Twenty men are engaged in fiery debate on a sidewalk near Nairobi's Westgate mall, where terrorists stormed the shopping center and killed at least 67 people.
September 27, 2013 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
It was the first major terrorist attack in history in which the group that mounted the operation used Twitter to announce to the world it was responsible.
September 25, 2013 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Photos from the attack as it happened.
September 24, 2013 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
A safe distance from Nairobi's Westgate Mall, several Kenyans stare through a stand of trees at the site of one of the nation's worst terrorist attacks.
September 26, 2013 -- Updated 1459 GMT (2259 HKT)
British-born Samantha Lewthwaite was once seen as a kind of victim of the July 2005 London terror attacks -- the pregnant wife of one of the suicide bombers.
September 26, 2013 -- Updated 0222 GMT (1022 HKT)
Some answers may be revealed in blood-stained halls or deep in the rubble of Nairobi's Westgate Mall. Others may never be known.
September 27, 2013 -- Updated 0125 GMT (0925 HKT)
The Westgate mall's parking deck collapsed leaving a crater full of destroyed and burned cars in Narobi, Kenya.
September 24, 2013 -- Updated 1138 GMT (1938 HKT)
Of all al Qaeda's affiliated groups, the Somali terrorist organization Al-Shabaab has over the years had the deepest links to the U.S.
September 23, 2013 -- Updated 1440 GMT (2240 HKT)
Kenyan soldiers take cover after heavy gunfire near Westgate mall in Nairobi on September 23, 2013.
It's hard to imagine a softer target than an enclosed, easy-to-enter space with large numbers of civilians milling about.
September 23, 2013 -- Updated 1648 GMT (0048 HKT)
Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked militant group based in Somalia, is believed to be responsible for the deaths of aid workers and peacekeepers
September 24, 2013 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
What the mall looked like before the attack.
ADVERTISEMENT