A team from the Navy's elite SEAL Team Six was after a foreign-born leader of al-Shabab in Somalia when it was caught in a firefight and forced to retreat, just hours before another American counter-terrorist unit snatched an alleged al Qaeda leader of the streets of Tripoli, Libya 3,000 miles away on Saturday, U.S. officials told ABC News.
The target of the Somalia operation was a man known as Ikrimah, a Kenyan of Somali descent, who is associated with a pair of al Qaeda operatives who were involved in the dual 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, a senior U.S. official said. Al-Shabab, an al Qaeda-allied Islamist group based in Somalia, most recently claimed responsibility for last month's massacre in Kenya's Westgate mall.
Though not a household name, Ikrimah was apparently seen as a valuable enough adversary to send in the elite SEAL team, as one military officer noted Saturday, before Ikrimah was named.
"When we put boots on the ground, it is only for an important target," said the military officer, who is familiar with the raid.
Even in the case of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, killed by SEAL Team Six in May 2011, there was intense debate in the U.S. government about whether it was worth the risk to send in American troops rather than launch a missile strike from death-dealing drones in the sky.
Over the weekend, officials told ABC News it was unclear if Ikrimah was killed in the exchange of gunfire.
Just a few hours later and 3,000 miles away, officials said another counter-terrorist unit, this time the Army's top tier Delta Force, ambushed and abducted another high-value target: an alleged al Qaeda operative known as Anas al-Libi. Al-Libi, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, has been wanted by the U.S. government for more than a decade for his alleged role in the 1998 embassy bombings as well.
Sunday al-Libi's capture was described by his son and brother, who said they have seen video footage of the operation which they said shows men, some masked, grabbing al-Libi at approximately 6:30 a.m., just after morning prayers.
"The way it was carried out indicated a highly, well-trained group of people, definitely foreigners, Americans," Al-Libi's brother, Nabeah al-Ruqai said.
Military sources told ABC News Saturday al-Libi is being held aboard a Navy vessel and is expected to be handed over to the FBI for a flight to New York where he will stand trial on terrorism charges. In the meantime, former senior military interrogator Tony Camerino said the U.S. will do what they can to find out what al-Libi knows about the al Qaeda of today and any threats to the homeland.
The idea that his family may have witnessed the abduction, Camerino said, could actually be advantageous for the U.S.
"We call that love of family approach, where you emphasize that person's love to their family, relationship to a family member," he said.
Another strategy, Camerino said, is to use the "we know all" approach in which interrogators "present all the evidence you have already… then convince him that it's futile or worthless to try and resist."
"You can imagine… that they've compiled quite a bit of information" on al-Libi, Camerino said.
Early Sunday the Libyan government said it was asking the U.S. for answers about what it called the "kidnapping" of al-Libi.
"The Libyan authorities have been following up on the case with American authorities since the news broke and has requested clarifications," a statement posted on the Libyan interim government's website said.
ABC News' Nasser Atta and Lee Ferran contributed to this report.
- Unrest, Conflicts & War
- Politics & Government
- al Qaeda
- SEAL Team Six