Libya, Somalia raids show U.S. reach, problems

Reuters

* Libyan wanted for 1998 embassy bombings seized in Tripoli

* Libyan prime minister seeks explanation for "kidnapping"

* Somali port raid on al Shabaab fails to take target

* Kerry: "Terrorist organisations can run but they can'thide"

By Ghaith Shennib and Abdi Sheikh

TRIPOLI/MOGADISHU, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Two U.S. raids inAfrica show the United States is pressuring al Qaeda, officialssaid on Sunday, though a failure in Somalia and an angryresponse in Libya also highlighted Washington's problems.

In Tripoli, U.S. forces snatched a Libyan wanted over thebombings of the American embassy in Nairobi 15 years ago andwhisked him out of the country, prompting Secretary of StateJohn Kerry to declare that al Qaeda leaders "can run but theycan't hide".

But the capture of Nazih al-Ragye, better known as Abu Anasal-Liby, also provoked a complaint about the "kidnap" from theWestern-backed Libyan prime minister; he faces a backlash fromarmed Islamists who have carved out a share of power since theWest helped Libyan rebels oust Muammar Gaddafi two years ago.

In Somalia, Navy SEALS stormed ashore into the al Shabaabstronghold of Barawe but, a U.S. official said, they failed tocapture or kill the target among the Somali allies of al Qaeda.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, toldReuters the target was a Kenyan of Somali origin known by thename Ikrima, described as a foreign fighter commander for alShabaab in Somalia.

One of the officials said it was not known if Ikrima wasconnected to last month's attack on Westgate mall in Nairobi byal Shabaab gunmen in which at least 67 people were killed.

Kerry, on a visit to Indonesia, said President BarackObama's administration was "pleased with the results" of thecombined assaults early on Saturday. "We hope this makes clearthat the United States of America will never stop in its effortto hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror," he said.

Two years after Navy SEALs finally tracked down and killedal Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, a decade after alQaeda's Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, the twinoperation demonstrated the reach of U.S. military forces inAfrica, where Islamist militancy has been in the ascendant.

The forays also threw a spotlight on Somalia's status as afragmented haven for al Qaeda allies more than 20 years afterWashington intervened in vain in its civil war and Libya'sdescent into an anarchic battleground between rival bands on theMediterranean that stretches deep south into the Sahara.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said they showed Washingtonwould "spare no effort to hold terrorists accountable".

Yet disrupting its most aggressive enemy, in an oil-richstate that is awash with arms and sits on Europe's doorstep, mayhave been more the priority in the Libya raid than putting ontrial a little known suspect in the 1998 bombings of the U.S.embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.

LIBYA RISKS

Clearly aware of the risks to his government of complicityin the snatching of Liby as he returned to his suburban homefrom dawn prayers, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said: "The Libyangovernment is following the news of the kidnapping of a Libyancitizen who is wanted by U.S. authorities.

"The Libyan government has contacted U.S. authorities to askthem to provide an explanation."

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, without commentingon any specific communications, said, "we consult regularly withthe Libyan government on a range of security andcounterterrorism issues."

Another U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity,told Reuters the Libyan government had been notified of theoperation, but did not specify when Libya was informed.

Liby's son, Abdullah al Ragye, 19, told reporters at thefamily home that men had pulled up in four cars, knocked him outwith some kind of drug, dragged him from his vehicle and drivenoff with him in a Mercedes.

"They had a Libyan look and Libyan accents," he said. It wasnot clear, however, whether the men were connected to the Libyanstate, which may either have sought to keep its distance or beensidelined by Washington for fear of leaks.

Abdul Bassit Haroun, a former Islamist militia commander whoworks with the Libyan government on security, said the U.S. raidwould show Libya was no refuge for "international terrorists".

"But it is also very bad that no state institutions had theslightest information about this process, nor do they have aforce which was able to capture him," he told Reuters.

"This means the Libyan state simply does not exist."

He warned that Islamist militants, like those blamed for thedeadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi a year ago,would hit back violently. "This won't just pass," Haroun said.

"There will be a strong reaction in order to take revengebecause this is one of the most important al Qaeda figures."

SOMALI CHAOS

Somalia's Western-backed government said it did cooperatewith Washington, though its control of much of the country,including the port of Barawe, 180 km (110 miles) south of thecapital Mogadishu, is limited by powerful armed groups.

"We have collaboration with the world and with neighbouringcountries in the battle against al Shabaab," Prime Minister AbdiFarah Shirdon said when asked of Somalia's role in the raid.

U.S. forces have used airborne drones to kill Somalis in thepast and last year SEALs freed two kidnapped aid workers there.

Somali police said seven people were killed in Barawe. U.S.officials said their forces took no casualties but had brokenoff the fighting to avoid harming civilians. They failed tocapture or kill their target during fighting around dawn at aseaside villa that al Shabaab said was one of its bases.

A Somali intelligence official said a Chechen commander, whomight have been the Americans' target, was wounded.

In Somalia, al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musabtold Reuters no senior figure was present when the Americanscame ashore. "Ordinary fighters lived in the house and theybravely counter attacked and chased off the attackers," he said.

Al Shabaab said that in attacking the Nairobi mall it washitting back at Kenyan intervention in Somalia, which has forcedit from much of its territory. It also targeted Westerners outshopping.

AFRICAN VIOLENCE

From Nigeria in the west, through Mali, Algeria and Libya toSomalia and Kenya in the east, Africa has seen major attacks onits own people and on Western economic interests, including anAlgerian desert gas plant in January and the Nairobi mall aswell as the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Libya a year ago.

The trend reflects a number of factors, including Westernefforts to force al Qaeda from its former base in Afghanistan,the overthrow of anti-Islamist authoritarian rulers in the ArabSpring of 2011 and growing resentment among Africa's poor withgovernments they view as corrupt pawns of Western powers.

Western intelligence experts say there is evidence ofgrowing links among Islamist militants across North Africa, whoshare al Qaeda's goal of a strict Islamic state and theexpulsion of Western interests from Muslim lands.

Liby, who has been reported as having fled Gaddafi's policestate to join bin Laden in Sudan in the 1990s before securingpolitical asylum in Britain, may have been part of that bid toconsolidate an operational base, analysts say.

Wanted by the FBI, which gives his age as 49 and had offereda $5 million reward for help in capturing him, Liby was indictedin 2000 along with 20 other al Qaeda suspects including binLaden and current global leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

Charges relating to him personally accused him of discussingthe bombing of the Nairobi embassy in retaliation for the U.S.intervention in the Somali civil war in 1992-1993 and of helpingreconnoitre and plan the attack in the years before 1998.

Obama, wrestling with the legal and political difficultiesposed by prisoners at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bayin Cuba, has said he does not want to send more suspects there.But a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Councilsaid it was still not decided where Liby would be tried.

His indictment was filed in New York, making that a possiblevenue for a civilian, rather than military, trial. It wasunclear where Liby was on Sunday. U.S. naval forces in theMediterranean, as well as bases in Italy and Germany, wouldprovide ample facilities within a short flight time.

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