By Jason Straziuso and Robert Burns Associated Press
NAIROBI, Kenya — The man U.S. Navy SEALs tried to take down in Somalia over the weekend was a Kenyan who had plotted to attack his country’s parliament building and the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi, according to a Kenyan government intelligence report.
The pre-dawn, seaside SEAL raid on Saturday targeted Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, who is also known as Ikrima, a U.S. official told The Associated Press. The U.S. troops are not believed to have captured or killed their target. The official insisted on anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information
In the internal report by Kenya’s National Intelligence Service, Abdulkadir is listed as the lead planner of a plot sanctioned by al-Qaida’s core leadership in Pakistan to carry out multiple attacks in Kenya in late 2011 and early 2012. The AP has previously reported that those attacks, linked to the Somali Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, were disrupted.
The report, which was leaked to AP and other media in the wake of the Sept. 21 terror attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall that killed more than 60 people, lists Samantha Lewthwaite — a Briton known in British media as the “White Widow” — as one of several “key actors” in the plot to attack Parliament buildings, the U.N. Office in Nairobi, Kenyan Defense Forces camps and other targets. The plotters also intended to assassinate top Kenyan political and security officials, the report said.
Police disrupted that plot. Lewthwaite, who was married to one of the suicide bombers in the 2005 attack on London’s transit system, escaped capture when she produced a fraudulently obtained South African passport in another person’s name. Late last month Interpol, acting on a request from Kenya, issued an arrest notice for Lewthwaite.
The National Intelligence Service report, in an entry dated exactly one year before the Sept. 21 mall attack, said al-Shabab operatives were in Nairobi “and are planning to mount suicide attacks on undisclosed date, targeting Westgate Mall and Holy Family Basilica.” Two suspects were believed in possession of suicide vests, grenades and AK-47 assault rifles, the report said.
The report also warns of “Mumbai-style attacks,” referring to the assaults in Mumbai, India in 2008 in which operatives stormed several locations with guns and grenades.
The report makes no mention of Abdulkadir in relation to the attack on Westgate Mall.
The men who attacked the mall last month and held off besieging Kenyan troops for several days were armed with grenades and AK-47s, but apparently had no suicide vests. It was unclear if one planned attack on the mall was foiled and then carried out again or if it was merely postponed for a year by al-Shabab, which claimed responsibility for the carnage.
The internal document shows that Kenyan intelligence officers have detailed information about plots and individuals tasked with carrying them out, and that the spy handlers face a continuous threat. Other targeted sites included the Hilton Hotel, the Yaya shopping mall, the office of the prime minister, and possibly the embassies of the United States — which was blown up by al-Qaida in 1998 — and of Britain and Israel.
The SEAL raid in Somalia was only one of two anti-terror missions by U.S. forces in Africa over the weekend. In Libya on Saturday, the U.S. Army’s Delta Force captured Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Anas al-Libi, an al-Qaida leader linked to the 1998 American Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
That raid prompted a warning Monday from a group of Libyan Islamic extremists who vowed to avenge al-Libi’s capture.
In a statement posted on a militant website Monday, “The Revolutionaries of Benghazi, al-Bayda and Darna” denounced the kidnapping, saying “this shameful act will cost the Libyan government a lot.”
The cities of Benghazi, Bayda and Darna are strongholds of Islamic extremists who are carrying out political assassinations targeting political activists, judges and members of security agencies.
“We owe it to God to fight whoever betrayed his country and involved in this conspiracy,” the group said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Sunday that al-Libi was in U.S. custody. A U.S. official familiar with the case said later that al-Libi was taken aboard a U.S. warship for questioning. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release details.
The FBI and CIA had been tracking Abu Anas al-Libi for years, said two former U.S. intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak about the case.
In 2000, al-Libi along with others was indicted in Manhattan federal court. The indictment says al-Libi “conducted visual and photographic surveillance” of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. He also participated in possible planning of attacks on British, French and Israeli targets in Nairobi. According to 2001 federal court documents, a cooperating al-Qaida witness once described al-Libi as computer engineer. The witness said al-Libi ran the terrorist network’s computers.
One of the former officials said that al-Libi had been living in Pakistan before he returned to Libya before Moammar Gadhafi’s government fell. He went back to Africa to be reunited with his family.
Al-Libi, the former official said, and his network of associates had been involved in battling Gadhafi’s forces.
Once the fighting ended, the U.S. intelligence community began focusing on trying to capture al-Libi, the official said, adding that the U.S. Army’s Delta Force worked with local Libyans to apprehend al-Libi. One of the New York FBI’s counterterrorism squads — CT-6— that focuses on Africa played a significant role in the arrest of al-Libi.
It’s unclear when al-Libi will be brought back to New York to face terrorism charges.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday defended the capture of al-Libi, saying complaints about the operation from Libya and others are unfounded. Kerry said the suspect was a “legal and appropriate target” for the U.S. military and will face justice in a court of law. Kerry added it was important not to “sympathize” with wanted terrorists.
“I hope the perception is in the world that people who commit acts of terror and who have been appropriately indicted by courts of law, by the legal process, will know that United States of America is going to do anything in its power that is legal and appropriate in order to enforce the law and to protect our security,” Kerry told reporters after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific economic conference in Bali, Indonesia.
“Members of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations literally can run but they can’t hide,” he added.
Associated Press reporters Matthew Lee in Bali, Indonesia, Adam Goldman in Washington and Lee Keath in Cairo contributed to this report. Burns reported from Washington.