Somali militants say Western forces raid base and kill fighter

Reuters

* Al Shabaab says fighter killed in strike

* Foreign forces land on beach under cover of darkness

* Somali officials say target was Chechen

* Shabaab say attack carried out by British, Turkish forces

By Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Somali al Shabaab militantssaid on Saturday British and Turkish special forces had raided acoastal town overnight, killing a rebel fighter, but that aBritish officer had also been killed and others wounded.

A British Defence Ministry spokeswoman said: "We are notaware of any British involvement in this at all." A TurkishForeign Ministry official denied any Turkish part in such anaction.

A Somali intelligence official said the target of the raidon Shabaab's stronghold in the small southern coastal town ofBarawe was a Chechen commander, who had been wounded and hisguard killed. A total of seven people were killed, said police.

It was not clear whether the assault was related to theattack on a Kenyan mall two weeks ago, which the al Qaeda-linkedgroup said it carried out and which killed at least 67. Nor wasthere any independent confirmation of what forces were involved.

Both U.S. and French forces have carried out similar raidsin the past. The French army denied involvement and the Pentagondeclined to comment.

Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abual-Zubayr, has described the mall attack as retaliation forKenya's incursion in October 2011 into southern Somalia to crushthe insurgents. It has raised concern in the West over theoperations of Shabaab in the region.

Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, spokesman for al Shabaab'smilitary operations, told Reuters foreign forces had landed onthe beach at Barawe, about 180 km (110 miles) south ofMogadishu, and launched an assault at dawn that drew gunfirefrom rebel fighters in one of the militia's coastal bases.

He later said the attack was carried out by Britain's SASunit and Turkish special forces, and that the British commanderwas killed during the raid and four other SAS soldiers werecritically wounded. A Turkish soldier was also wounded, headded.

Western navies patrol the sea off Somalia, mired in conflictfor more than two decades, and have in the past launched strikeson land from warships. Neither Turkish nor British forces haveany past record of raids in the area.

Barawe is fully controlled by the Islamist militia withalmost no government presence.

CHECHEN

Somali security officials gave conflicting accounts.

"We understand that French troops injured Abu Diyad alsoknown as Abu Ciyad, an al Shabaab leader from Chechnya. Theykilled his main guard who was also a foreigner. The main targetwas the Shabaab leader from Chechnya," an intelligence officerbased in Mogadishu, who gave his name as Mohamed, told Reuters.

A second Somali intelligence officer said the Barawe attackhad been carried out by foreign forces. He confirmed the targetwas a foreign national, and said another foreigner was wounded.

Col. Abdikadir Mohamed, a senior police officer inMogadishu, said that despite the statements by al Shabaab on theidentities of the foreign forces, he still believed theattacking troops were American and their target was a seniorforeign al Shabaab official.

"At least seven people died in the Barawe port town attack -five militants plus two of the attackers," Mohamed told Reuters.

In 2009, helicopter-borne U.S. special forces killed senioral Qaeda militant Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in a raid in southernSomalia. Nabhan was suspected of building the bomb that killed15 people at an Israeli-owned hotel on the Kenyan coast in 2002.

NATO denied involvement in the Barawe attack, as did EUNavfor, Europe's counterpiracy mission off the Somalian coast.

"Westerners in boats attacked our base at Barawe beach andone was martyred from our side," Musab said.

"No planes or helicopters took part in the fight. Theattackers left weapons, medicine and stains of blood, we chasedthem," he added.

"Although we both exchanged grenades, the attackers hadsilencer guns, so the weapons heard were ours."

HEAVY GUNFIRE

Residents said fighting erupted at about 3 a.m. (midnightGMT).

"We were awoken by heavy gunfire last night, we thought anal Shabaab base at the beach was captured," Sumira Nur, a motherof four, told Reuters from Barawe on Saturday.

"We also heard sounds of shells but we do not know wherethey landed. We don't have any other information."

The United States has used drones to kill fighters inSomalia in the past. In January 2012, members of the elite U.S.Navy SEALs rescued two aid workers after they killed their ninekidnappers.

In January this year the French military used helicopters toattack an al Shabaab base in a southern village to rescue aFrench hostage. Two French commandos were killed and theinsurgents later claimed they had killed the hostage.

Al Shabaab were driven out of Mogadishu in late 2011 and arestruggling to hold on to territory elsewhere in the face ofattacks by Kenyan, Ethiopian and African Union forces trying toprevent Islamist militancy spreading from Somalia.

Al Shabaab wants to impose its strict version of sharia, orIslamic law, across the Horn of Africa state.

The Kenyan mall raid, in which attackers stormed in sprayingpeople with bullets and throwing grenades, confirmed fears inthe region and the West that Somalia remains a training groundfor militant Islam.

A Kenyan military spokesman on Saturday named four of theattackers, saying they also included a Sudanese, Kenyan Arab anda Somali, trained by al Shabaab and al Qaeda.

View Comments (0)