FOREIGN military forces are reported to have carried out a pre-dawn raid on a southern Somalian coastal town yesterday in pursuit of a high-profile target linked to last month’s Kenyan shopping mall shootings.
Somali al-Shabaab militants, who were behind the Nairobi attack that left at least 67 people dead, said yesterday British and Turkish special forces had raided a coastal town overnight, killing a rebel fighter, but that a British officer had also been killed and others wounded.
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman strongly denied the group’s claims, saying: “We are not aware of any British involvement in this at all.” A Turkish foreign ministry official also denied any Turkish part in such an action.
Al-Shabaab said the target of the raid on its stronghold in the small southern coastal town of Barawe was a Chechen commander. He had been wounded and his guard killed.
Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr, has described the mall attack as retaliation for Kenya’s incursion in October 2011 into southern Somalia to crush the insurgents.
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, spokesman for al- Shabaab’s military operations, said foreign forces had landed on the beach at Barawe, about 110 miles south of Mogadishu, and launched an assault at dawn that drew gunfire from rebels in one of the militia’s coastal bases.
He later said the attack was carried out by Britain’s SAS unit and Turkish special forces, and that the British commander was killed during the raid and four other SAS soldiers were critically wounded.
Meanwhile, Kenya’s military spokesman yesterday named four men – including a Sudanese, a Kenyan Arab and a Somali – he said took part in the mall attack.
Closed-circuit television footage from the Westgate mall was broadcast on Kenyan TV channels, apparently showing at least four alleged attackers with guns walking around the mall’s supermarket and a storage room.
“I confirm these were the terrorists, they all died in the raid,” Major Emmanuel Chirchir said.
Western navies patrol the sea off Somalia, a country which has been mired in conflict for more than two decades. In the past foreign navies have launched strikes on land from warships. However, neither Turkish nor British forces have any past record of raids in the area, further discrediting al-Shabaab’s claims.
Barawe is fully controlled by the Islamist militia with almost no government presence.
Somali security officials gave conflicting accounts.
An intelligence officer based in Mogadishu, who gave his name as Mohamed, said: “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 Shabaab leader from Chechnya.”
A second Somali intelligence officer said the Barawe attack had been carried out by foreign 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.
In 2009, helicopter-borne US special forces killed senior al-Qaeda militant Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in a raid in southern Somalia. Nabhan was suspected of building the bomb that killed 15 people at an Israeli-owned hotel on the Kenyan coast in 2002.
Nato denied involvement in the Barawe attack, as did EU Navfor, Europe’s counter piracy mission off the Somalian coast.
“Westerners in boats attacked our base at Barawe beach and one was martyred from our side,” Musab said.
“No planes or helicopters took part in the fight. The attackers left weapons, medicine and stains of blood. We chased them,” he added.
Residents said fighting erupted at about 3am yesterday. “We were awoken by heavy gunfire last night, we thought an al-Shabaab base at the beach was captured,” Sumira Nur, a mother of four, said yesterday.
“We also heard sounds of shells but we do not know where they landed. We don’t have any other information.”
The US has used drones to kill fighters in Somalia in the past. In January 2012, members of the elite US Navy SEALs rescued two aid workers after they killed their nine kidnappers.
In January this year the French military used helicopters to attack an al-Shabaab base in a southern village to rescue a French hostage. Two French commandos were killed and the insurgents later claimed they had killed the hostage.
Al-Shabaab were driven out of Mogadishu in late 2011 and is struggling to hold on to territory elsewhere in the face of attacks by Kenyan, Ethiopian and African Union forces trying to prevent Islamist militancy spreading from Somalia. Al-Shabaab wants to impose its strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, across the Horn of Africa state.