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U.S. Raids Terror Targets In North Africa


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Two military raids, two terrorism targets and this morning a lot of unanswered questions. Yesterday, U.S. forces launched separate operations in Africa - one in Somalia, the other in Libya. In both cases, the targets were suspected leaders linked to major terrorism attacks in Africa.

One was the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; the other, the murder of civilians at a shopping mall in Nairobi just last month. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been reporting on the latest developments. He joins me now. Thanks for being here, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Let's start with Somalia. What do we know about what happened?

BOWMAN: Well Rachel, Pentagon spokesman George Little confirmed reports that there was a raid by U.S. personnel and a government official says it was aimed at capturing a high-value terrorist leader with the group al-Shabab, which has ties to al-Qaida. And we're told that U.S. Navy SEALS came ashore from the Indian Ocean, launched the attack on this seaside villa south of the capitol Mogadishu, but they stopped the raid after some al-Shabab fighters were killed or wounded.

Now, there's no sense at this point whether the target was among the casualties, and our reporter in Africa, Greg Warner, says the target was a man who goes by the name of Ekrema(ph). He's been involved in kidnappings, piracies and also targeting civilians with grenades and roadside bombs.

Now, the Somali government said this morning that they were involved in this operation. They're working with what they call international partners to target al-Shabab.

MARTIN: This target was a leader in al-Shabab. This was the group responsible for that attack at the shopping mall in Kenya which killed more than 60 civilians. Tom, is this raid by U.S. Special Operations Forces believed to be direct retaliation for that?

BOWMAN: Well, it's uncertain at this point. The raid was planned more than a week ago after the mall attack that killed more than 60 civilians, but there's no sense at this point whether this targeted, high-value target was involved in the planning. It could have been just what they call a target of opportunity in the military. They just had enough information to go in and get him.

But we do know that the U.S. has been targeting al-Shabab for years with both drones and commando raids. They're considered a particular threat to the region now in East Africa and senior military officers say the number one job for the Africa Command right now is counterterrorism.

MARTIN: In our time remaining, let's talk about the other raid, this one carried out in Libya. U.S. Special Operations Forces captured a man named Abu Anas al-Libi. Who is he?

BOWMAN: Well, he was one of the planners of the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, considered al-Qaida's key operative in that region for years now. There was a $5 million bounty on his head and he's already been indicted in the U.S. for those bombings, and a U.S. official said getting him off the streets was a major achievement. And now we're told he's in a secure location outside of Africa.

MARTIN: How significant is this that these operations were carried out by Special Operations Forces, boots on the ground, rather than drone strikes?

BOWMAN: Well, it's significant, you know, first of all the President has said he wants to curtail the number of drone strikes being used because, you know, obviously they can kill civilians, innocents. And the other thing is you want to use Special Operations Forces to capture a high-value target to bring him to justice, to get information about other possible attacks, and to gather intelligence information; computers and papers and so forth.

As many people know, after bin Laden was killed, there was a huge treasure trove of information that helped in other investigations.

MARTIN: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks so much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.