By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Helicopter-borne Special Forces troops attacked and killed a top al-Qaeda-linked suspect in a raid in southern Somalia early Monday, U.S. officials said.
Officials said Saleh Ali Nabhan, 30, a Kenyan sought in the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned resort in Kenya and an unsuccessful attempt that year to shoot down an Israeli airliner, was among four men killed in the attack. U.S. troops fired from the air at a vehicle in which the men were traveling.
At least four helicopters participated in the raid, launched from a nearby U.S. naval vessel, a senior military official said. At least one of them landed, and troops retrieved the bodies. "You want to go in there, do this fast, and get out before you're detected," the official said.
Officials said Nabhan was the target of the raid.
The attack took place in a region under the control of the al-Shabab militia, which is fighting to overthrow the U.S. backed-Somali government and install strict Islamic law. A U.S. counterterrorism official described Nabhan as a senior official in the Shabab who maintained close ties to the Pakistan-based al-Qaeda leadership and provided a link between the two groups.
In 2006, the FBI said Nabhan was wanted "for questioning in connection" with the resort bombing in Mombasa, Kenya. U.S. counterterrorism officials have also alleged he was involved in the 1998 al-Qaeda attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Nabhan is believed to have been in Somalia for a number of years, initially under the protection of an Islamic government that was ousted by the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in late 2006.
Officials of that government, which called itself the Islamic Courts Union, fled the Somali capital of Mogadishu in advance of the Ethiopian forces, along with a number of foreign backers said to have al-Qaeda links. They have since been sought by U.S. intelligence officials and have been the target of a number of U.S. attacks, including a missile strike last year that killed al-Shabab military commander Aden Hashi Ayro. Ayro, a Somali, reportedly trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan before 2001.
Ethiopian troops have withdrawn from Somalia, but a rump government recognized by the West controls little territory beyond the capital. In the meantime, the Shabab movement has gained strength. Although most of its membership is Somali and its stated aims are domestic, U.S. counterterrorism officials have said that its leadership is increasingly linked to al-Qaeda.
The Associated Press reported from Somalia that the U.S. helicopter attack took place in a village near Baraawe. The attack was first reported by ABC News.