Foreign military raid al-Shabaab headquarters in Somalia, reports say
Speculation that assault was targeting militant leader Ahmed Godane, who claimed responsibility for Nairobi mall attack
Foreign military forces appear to have carried out a pre-dawn raid on a southern Somalian coastal town, apparently in pursuit of “a high-profile target” linked to the militant al-Shabaab group that was behind last month’s Kenyan mall shootings.
The pre-dawn raid – which initial but unconfirmed reports suggested may have involved US troops – took place in Barawe, in the lower Shabelle region 240km south of Mogadishu. It is the same town where US navycommandos killed a senior al-Qaida member four years ago.
The raid comes as Kenya‘s military confirmed the names of four al-Shabaab fighters implicated in the Westgate attack. Major Emmanuel Chirchir said the men were Abu Baara al-Sudani, Omar Nabhan, Khattab al-Kene and Umayr – names that were first broadcast by a local Kenyantelevision station.
“I confirm those are the names of the terrorist,” he said, in a tweet sent to the Associated Press.
The publication of the identities supports CCTV footage from the Nairobi mall published by a private TV station that shows no more than four attackers, contradicting earlier government statements that between 10 to 15 attackers were involved.
They are seen calmly walking through a storeroom inside the complex, holding machine guns. One of the men’s legs appears to be stained with blood, though he is not limping, and it is unclear if the blood is his.
The focus of Saturday’s raid in Somalia appears to have been a two-storey beachside house that residents say was used as a headquarters by al-Shabaab. with some troops reportedly landing by helicopter.
Radio Shabelle, in Mogadishu, reported that one al-Shabaab fighter had been killed and others were injured. Although the details were sketchy, agencies reported residents describing being awoken before early morning prayers by heavy gunfire. Other Mogadishu news sourcesappeared to confirm the details of the raid.
An al-Shabaab source, who spoke to Reuters, said a group of westerners had landed on a beach near Barawe and been repelled.
Somali security officials gave partly conflicting accounts. “We understand that French troops injured Abu Diyad also known as Abu Ciyad, an al-Shabaab leader from Chechnya. They killed his main guard who was also a foreigner. The main target was the al-Shabaab leader from Chechnya,” an intelligence officer based in Mogadishu, who gave his name as Mohamed, told Reuters.
The French army said earlier it was not involved in the raid.
A second Somali intelligence officer said the Barawe attack had been carried out by US forces. He confirmed the target was a foreign national, and said another foreigner was wounded.
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-Shabaab official.
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a spokesman for al-Shabaab’s military operations, told Reuters: “Westerners in boats attacked our base at Barawe beach and one was martyred from our side. No planes or helicopters took part in the fight. The attackers left weapons, medicine and stains of blood. We chased them.”
Following the raid al-Shabaab trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns were reported to be patrolling in the town.
There was immediate speculation that the target was the leader of al-Shabaab, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Godane, who claimed responsibility for the four-day assault on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi two weeks ago. He said the attack, which left at least 67 people dead, was in retaliation for Kenya’s military deployment inside Somalia.
“We were awoken by heavy gunfire last night, we thought an al-Shabaab base at the beach was captured,” Sumira Nur told Reuters from Barawe. “We also heard sounds of shells but we do not know where they landed.”
An al-Shabaab member, who gave his name as Abu Mohamed, said fighters rushed to the scene to try to capture a foreign soldier but they were not successful..