A group of Navy SEALs carried out a raid on a house in Baraawe, Somalia with the intention of killing or seizing an al-Shabab leader as a response to the attack on a Nairobi mall. Unfortunately U.S. officials aren't sure whether or not the attack succeeded. The New York Times reports Navy SEALs descended on the house, a known Shabab hangout, just before dawn Saturday morning, targeting one of the group's leaders. Though early reports didn't include the target's identity, NBC News reports the Navy SEAL were after "the leader of al Shabaab, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Godane." The Associated Press reports the SEALs "did not get their target."
U.S. officials initially said they seized their target after an hour long firefight, but now they've changed their story:
The Shabab leader was believed to have been killed in the firefight, but the SEALS were forced to withdraw before that could be confirmed, a senior American official said. Such operations by American forces are rare because they carry a high risk, and indicate that the target was considered a high priority. Baraawe, a small port town south of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, is known as a gathering place for the Shabab’s foreign fighters.
Officials from the U.S. and Kenya confirmed the raid took place. Al Shabab confirmed one member was killed but didn't say who. The group claimed their fighters "had beaten back the assault," according to the Times. There's a chance the SEALs got their man, but they were clearly met with a bigger resistance than they expected.
FBI officials have been aiding local authorities ever since al-Shabab militants attacked Nairobi's Westgate mall, killing 67 people and engaging in a multiple day standoff with the Kenyan military. The attack on the mall was the largest operation carried out by the al-Qaeda linked group, and the possibility of a similar attack on American soil worried the intelligence community. The Baraawe raid "was prompted by the Westgate attack," an American security official told the Times.
Earlier Saturday, Kenya offered new details about the raid on the Nairobi mall, including a revised estimate on the number of militants who carried out the attack. The Kenyan military identified four Shabab militants killed during the attack: Abu Baara al-Sudani, Omar Nabhan, Khattab al-Kene and Umayr. They now believe the group who attacked the mall consisted of about four to six people, contrary to earlier estimates of around 10 to 15 people. The military also said the "white widow," a British woman named Samantha Lewthwaite who joined al-Shabab, who officials initially named as a suspect, was not part of the attack.
This wasn't the only major operation against militant leaders on Saturday, though. The Times also reports Abu Anas el-Liby, a top al Queda leader and one of the U.S. government's most wanted terrorists since 2000, was successfully seized in Tripoli, Libya on Saturday.
[Pictured: the Westgate mall near the end of the standoff with the Kenyan military.]