WASHINGTON – The target of the failed U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Somalia is a Kenyan militant who has planned a string of foiled terrorist attacks in East Africa and is linked to two of the region’s most notorious Al Qaeda operatives, according to U.S. and Kenyan officials.
U.S. officials confirmed Monday that the SEALs had sought to capture Ikrima, the nom de guerre for Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, in the predawn raid Saturday at a beachfront compound in the southern Somali town of Barawa. The U.S. force came under heavy fire and withdrew in order to minimize civilian casualties, U.S. officials said. Ikrima is believed to have escaped.
Ikrima helped coordinate foreign fighters for the Somali militant group the Shabab. In 2011, he won the support of Al Qaeda’s core leadership in Pakistan to carry out an ambitious, but ultimately thwarted, series of attacks on Kenyan political and military targets and the United Nations office in Nairobi.
A Kenyan intelligence document leaked to reporters said the plot was coordinated by Ikrima and involved operatives trained by Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, senior Al Qaeda operatives who had long been sought in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Nabhan was killed in a Navy SEAL raid in 2009; Mohammed died in a shootout with Somali forces in 2011.
Kenyan authorities say Ikrima, a Kenyan of Somali origin, was a senior leader in the Shabab, which claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on a Nairobi shopping mall last month.
It’s unclear if Ikrima was involved in that attack, but officials believe that for at least two years he was at the center of the Shabab’s growing effort to attack targets in Kenya in retaliation for Kenyan military operations against the group in Somalia.
In October 2011, Kenyan authorities arrested a man who was found to have stashed grenades, firearms and ammunition at a safe house in Kenya and was training militants to carry out what was described as a major attack that also involved operatives from South Africa. That man, known as Seyf Deen, was acting under the direction of Ikrima, Kenyan officials say.
The Kenyan intelligence document doesn’t indicate whether Ikrima or his associates were planning attacks outside Kenya. It’s unclear why President Obama ordered the raid in Somalia when he did, and U.S. officials declined to discuss reasons for the timing of the attack.