Somali witnesses say a U.S. air assault in Somalia has killed a top terrorist suspect linked to al-Qaida. The fugitive is believed to have been behind the bombing of a Kenyan hotel and is also suspected in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
Terrorist suspect Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan was killed in a helicopter assault Monday, according to Somali eyewitnesses. The eyewitnesses say after attacking a convoy carrying the terror suspect, the U.S. troops landed and took the corpse of the Kenyan-born man with them.
U.S. military officials said the commando operation took place in the coast district of Barawe in southern Somalia, which is heavily controlled by al-Shabab, a radical Islamist terrorist group thought to have direct links with al-Qaida.
U.S. authorities say Nabhan was involved in the 2002 bombing of the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel that killed 13 people in the Kenyan port city of Mombassa. At the same time, two ground-launched missiles narrowly missed an Israeli passenger jet leaving Mombassa's airport. Nabhan is suspected of helping fire the rockets.
Authorities also believe the suspect may have been involved in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, which killed 218 people, the majority of them Kenyan.
The alleged use of special operations troops in the raid could signal a shift away from the controversial U.S. tactic of relying on long-range missile assaults to take out terrorist targets.
The long-range attacks kept American combat forces largely off the ground, but caused a number of civilian deaths. Critics say the unpopular attacks help fuel the Islamist insurgency they were aimed at destroying.
The commando operation Monday appears to have been executed smoothly and with no civilian casualties.
An International Crisis Group Somalia analyst, Rashid Abdi, says the United States has most probably been tracking the suspect for awhile.
"We know he has been in southern Somalia for sometime, especially that he was being sheltered by some of the al-Shabab leaders," he said. "And there have been reported sightings of him for some time now. So I am sure the American intelligence also must have been aware of his whereabouts and movements. They must have kept him under surveillance for a while."
U.S. officials have been quoted as saying the operation Monday was launched when it became clear their target was traveling in an area away from heavy population.
The Kenyan-born suspect reportedly was highly involved in al-Shabab's fight against the Western-backed transitional federal government and participated actively in the insurgency against Ethiopian troops after the 2006 invasion and subsequent occupation of Somalia.
Nabhan is thought to have been closely tied to Fazul Abdullah Mohamed, al-Qaida's chief operative in the region and a suspected mastermind of the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi and Tanzania's capital Dar es Salaam. Both men have been the target of multiple U.S. airstrikes.
The U.S. government has not officially confirmed the death.