MOGADISHU, Somalia — International military forces carried out a predawn strike Saturday against foreign fighters in the same southern Somalia village where U.S. Navy SEALs four years ago killed a most-wanted al-Qaeda operative, officials said.
The strike was carried out in the town of Barawe in the hours before morning prayers against what one official said were “high-profile” targets. The strike comes exactly two weeks after al-Shabab militants attacked Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, a four-day terrorist assault that killed at least 67 people in neighboring Kenya.
The leader of al-Shabab, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Godane, claimed responsibility for the Nairobi attack and said it was in retaliation for Kenya’s military deployment inside Somalia. In Kenya, a military spokesman released the names of four men implicated in the mall attack.
A resident of Barawe — a seaside town 150 miles south of Mogadishu — said by telephone that heavy gunfire awoke residents before dawn prayers. An al-Shabab fighter who gave his name as Abu Mohamed said the international troops attacked a two-story beachside house in Barawe where foreign fighters lived, battling their way inside.
Al-Shabab has a formal alliance with al-Qaeda, and hundreds of foreign fighters from the United States, Britain and Middle Eastern countries fight alongside Somali members of al-Shabab.
A Somalian intelligence official said the targets of the raid were “high-profile” foreigners in the house. The intelligence official also said the strike was carried out by an international military. A second intelligence official confirmed the attack. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could discuss intelligence matters.
Foreign militaries — often that of the United States, but not always — have carried out several strikes inside Somalia in recent years against al-Shabab or al-Qaeda leaders, as well as criminal kidnappers. A Western intelligence official said it appeared likely that either U.S. or French forces carried out the attack. The official insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman George Little said he declined to comment.
A resident of Barawe who gave his name as Mohamed Bile said militants there had closed down the town in the hours after the assault and were carrying out house-to-house searches, likely to find evidence that a spy had given intelligence to a foreign power used to launch the attack, he said.
In September 2009 a daylight commando raid carried out by Navy SEALs in Barawe killed six people, including Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of the most-wanted al-Qaeda operatives in the region and an alleged plotter in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 250 people.
— Associated Press