Libya has demanded an explanation for the “kidnapping” of one of its citizens by American special forces, hours after a separate US military raid on a terrorist target in Somalia ended in apparent failure and retreat.
In Tripoli the US army’s Delta force seized Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Abu Anas al-Liby and wanted for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 220 people.
But US navy Seals suffered a major setback when they launched an amphibious assault to capture an Islamist militant leader said to be Ahmed Godane, described as Africa’s most wanted man and the architect of last month’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya. The elite Seals were beaten back by heavy fire and apparently abandoned equipment that the Somali militants photographed and posted on the internet.
As dramatic details of Saturday’s twin operations emerged, US secretary of state John Kerry insisted that terrorists “can run but they can’t hide” , but faced growing questions about America’s military reach in Africa and the consequences of unilateral aggression.
Liby was captured outside his family home at 6.15am in Noufle’een, a quiet suburb in eastern Tripoli, according to witnesses, but there were conflicting reports over who took him. His brother, Nabih, told the Associated Press that Liby was parking when a convoy of three vehicles encircled his car. Armed gunmen smashed the car’s window and seized Liby’s gun before grabbing him and taking him away, the report said. The brother said Liby’s wife saw the kidnapping from her window and described the abductors as foreign-looking armed “commandos”.
But Liby’s son Abdullah insisted Libyan forces were involved. Appearing on Tripoli’s Nabir TV station, he said: “The people who took my father were Libyan, not Americans – they spoke with Tripoli accents.
“My mother was listening to the voices in the street and could see it all through the window. There were two cars and a bus with blacked-out windows and no number plates.”
He said his father was dragged from his car and arrested while it was still moving, and the vehicle, driverless, continued driving empty down the road.
Liby, who was thought to live in Manchester in the UK during the 1990s, is believed to be 49 and on the FBI’s most-wanted list with a $5m (£3m) bounty on his head. Pentagon spokesman George Little said he is “currently lawfully detained by the US military in a secure location outside of Libya”.
Libya’s government refused to say whether its forces were involved in the arrest and claimed it had not been informed in advance. A statement from the prime minister, Ali Zaidan, said: “The Libyan government is following the news of the kidnapping of a Libyan citizen who is wanted by US authorities. The Libyan government has contacted to US authorities to ask them to provide an explanation.”
Thousands of miles away in Somalia, US special forces carried out a raid that was no less audacious but had a very different outcome. It was reportedly planned a week and a half ago in response to the Nairobi attack and came 20 years to the week after an American mission that infamously went awry when Somali fighters shot down two Black Hawk helicopters.