Foreign military forces carried out a pre-dawn strike Saturday against foreign fighters in the same southern Somalia village where U.S. Navy SEALS four years ago killed a most-wanted al-Qaida operative, officials said.
The strike was carried out in the town of Barawe in the hours before morning prayers against what one official said were “high-profile” targets. The strike comes exactly two weeks after al-Shabab militants attacked Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, a four-day terrorist assault that killed at least 67 people in neighboring 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 inside Somalia.
A resident of Barawe — a seaside town 240 kilometers (150 miles) south of Mogadishu — said by telephone that heavy gunfire woke up residents before dawn prayers. 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 foreign soldier. Mohamed said that effort was not successful.
The foreign troops attacked a two-story house close to the beach in Barawe, battling their way inside, said Mohamed, who said he had visited the scene of the attack. Foreign fighters resided in the house, Mohamed said. Al-Shabab has a formal alliance with al-Qaida, and hundreds of foreign fighters from the U.S., Britain and Middle Eastern countries are known to fight alongside Somali members of al-Shabab.
A Somalia intelligence official said the targets of the raid were “high-profile” foreigners in the house. The intelligence official also said the strike was carried out by a foreign military. Somalia’s nascent army does not have the ability to carry out a stealth night-time strike. A second intelligence official also confirmed the attack. Both insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
Foreign militaries — often the U.S. but not always — have carried out several strikes inside Somalia in recent years against al-Shabab or al-Qaida leaders, as well as criminal kidnappers.
A Western intelligence official said it appeared likely that either U.S. or French forces carried out the attack. The official insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.