International forces target al-Shabab fighters in Somalia
Raid strikes 'high profile' foreign fighters of group behind Kenyan mall siege
International military forces carried out a pre-dawn strike yesterday on a base of Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab in the same Somalia village where US Navy SEALS four years ago killed a most-wanted operative of al-Qaeda.
The strike was carried out in the town of Barawe against what one official said were "high-profile" targets.
The strike came two weeks after al-Shabab militants attacked Nairobi's Westgate Mall, a four-day terrorist assault that killed at least 67 people in neighbouring Kenya.
The leader of al-Shabab, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Godane, claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was in retaliation for Kenya's military deployment in Somalia.
There were conflicting reports about the target of yesterday's attack and the nationalities of the special forces.
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, spokesman for al-Shabab's military operations, said foreign forces had landed on the beach and launched an assault that drew fire from rebel fighters in one of their bases.
He later said the attack was carried out by Britain's SAS unit and Turkish special forces, and that the British commander was killed during the raid and four other SAS soldiers were critically wounded. A Turkish soldier was also wounded, he added.
A British Defence Ministry spokeswoman said: "We are not aware of any British involvement in this at all." A Turkish Foreign Ministry official denied any Turkish part in such an action.
An al-Shabab fighter who gave his name as Abu Mohamed said "foreign" soldiers attacked a house, prompting militants to rush to the scene to capture a soldier. Mohamed said that effort was not successful.
The international troops attacked a beachside house where foreign fighters lived, battling their way inside, said Mohamed, who said he had visited the scene.
Somali security officials also gave differing accounts.
"We understand that French troops injured Abu Diyad, also known as Abu Ciyad, an al-Shabab leader from Chechnya. They killed his main guard, who was also a foreigner," an intelligence officer based in Mogadishu said.
Colonel Abdikadir Mohamed, a senior police officer in Mogadishu, said he believed the attacking troops were American and their target was a senior foreign al-Shabab official.
Foreign militaries - often American but not always - have carried out several strikes inside Somalia in recent years against al-Shabab or al-Qaeda leaders. A Western intelligence official said it appeared that either US or French forces carried out the attack. The French army denied involvement and the Pentagon declined to comment.
In Kenya, military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir yesterday confirmed the names of four fighters implicated in the Westgate Mall attack. Chirchir named the attackers as Abu Baara al-Sudani, Omar Nabhan, Khattab al-Kene and Umayr.
Matt Bryden, the former head of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, said al-Kene and Umayr were known members of al-Hijra, the Kenyan arm of al-Shabab. He added that Nabhan may be a relative of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the target of the 2009 Navy SEALs raid in Barawe.
In September 2009 a daylight commando raid in Barawe killed six people, including Nabhan, one of the most-wanted al-Qaeda operatives in the region and an alleged plotter in the 1998 bombings at US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 250 people.
Additional reporting by Reuters