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SAS hunts fleeing Al-Qaeda Africans Print

Hala Jaber in Nairobi and Michael Smith - Jan, 14 2007

AN SAS team is hunting down Al-Qaeda terror suspects as they try to flee war-torn Somalia after the crushing defeat of the country’s Islamist forces last week.

The suspects are trapped between invading Ethiopian troops — assisted by US special forces and American mercenaries — and the Kenyan army and SAS troops who are acting as “training advisers” but have been leading operations along the border, providing a “screen” to trap terrorists.

Somalia’s interim government yesterday claimed the last stronghold of the Islamic movement had been captured with the fall of Ras Kamboni, a coastal area less than two miles from the Kenyan border.

Eleven suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists were said to have been arrested last week but three key suspects, believed to be responsible for the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and an attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, were still on the run yesterday.

The dramatic victory by Ethiopian troops was the culmination of months of preparation inside and outside Somalia by American and British special forces, and US-hired mercenaries.

The “professional assistance” was recruited by officials based in the US embassy in Nairobi at the end of 2005 as part of a deniable operation, sources claimed.

“The brief was to enter Somali territory with the objective of studying the terrain, mapping and analysing landing sites and regrouping areas, and reporting on suitable ‘entry and exit points’,” one source said.

According to a CIA source, American intelligence and military have been bankrolling the Ethiopians since the start of last year, as well as providing them with satellite surveillance, technical, military and logistical support.

“They not only gave them money and technical support but even spare parts where needed,” the source said.

Although it was a goal of US policy to overthrow the Union of Islamic Courts which had taken power in most of Somalia, “all the investment in the Ethiopians was ultimately to get to the three suspects,” said the source.

“No army in Africa was capable of doing this on its own, and it was unlikely that these Al-Qaeda bad guys were just going to go away, so the United States decided to do something about it. The goal was limited to liquidating these targets. It was certainly not to re-establish ourselves in Somalia, nor to open up a new front.”

Last week America showed its hand when it unleashed an airstrike from an AC-130 gunship on a Somali village where intelligence suggested the three key suspects, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, 32, Saleh ali Saleh Nabhan, 38, and Abu Taha al-Sudani, were holed up.

The airstrike missed the men but, according to a senior American official, the attack killed eight to 10 “significant Al-Qaeda affiliates”. A small team of US special operations troops has remained at the scene collecting evidence to identify the victims.

Monday’s strike was the first overt American military action in Somalia since US forces withdrew from the Horn of Africa after 18 servicemen were killed by Somali militiamen in the notorious “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993.

Last week US congressmen were briefed by General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, that the Somali attack was executed under the Pentagon’s authority to hunt and kill terror suspects around the world, a power bestowed by the White House after 9/11.

Kenyan counter-terrorism police said the wives and three children of two of the Al-Qaeda main suspects, Mohammed and Nabhan, were caught as they attempted to cross into Kenya. The women were reportedly flown to Nairobi for questioning.

Despite the swift victory, there were fears that American intervention would spark a new insurgency. Gunfire could be heard in Mogadishu yesterday as militias struggled for control.

There were reports of murder, rape and armed robbery, and roadblocks have been re-established on many routes into the city by militias extorting money.

A senior western diplomat said already warlords and extremists were regrouping and rearming, though the price of weapons has risen by nearly 200% in the past few weeks.

“Unless the international community intervenes quickly it could slip back into the anarchy of the 1990s,” he warned. 

 
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