The war on terrorism is an infinitely complex, seriously risky and endless undertaking, yet occasionally it has enjoyed important successes such as the capture of Osama bin Laden and this weekend’s capture of an important al-Qaida operative in Libya.
Unfortunately, however, a similar weekend raid by Navy SEALs on al-Shabab headquarters in Somalia appears to have failed, although all the details have yet to be disclosed. The raid was designed to punish al-Shabab, an affiliate of al-Qaida, for its recent deadly attack on a crowded shopping mall in neighboring Kenya.
The capture of the man known as Anas al-Libi, who had been pursued by the United States for 15 years, has been complicated by the Libyan government’s demand that Washington explain why American troops crossed its borders to kidnap him. He is accused of participating in the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and there was a $5 million bounty on his head.
American officials had indicated that Libya was cooperating in the operation, and if that’s the case, then the protest may be more for domestic consumption than an expression of genuine anger at Washington.
Although many Libyans are sympathetic to the United States and grateful for its role in ridding them of their longtime dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, there are also numerous hard-line Islamists in the country who strongly condemned the American action and called for public protests.
Al-Libi, 49, joined al-Qaida in the early 1990s. Later, Britain granted him political asylum as a Libyan dissident. In 2000 prosecutors in New York charged him with helping to conduct “visual and photographic surveillance” of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1993 and again in 1995. The prosecutors also said al-Libi had discussed with another senior al-Qaida figure the possibility of attacking an American target to retaliate for the U.S. peacekeeping operations in Somalia.
After the 1998 bombing, British police raided his apartment and found an 18-chapter terrorist training manual written in Arabic and titled “Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants.” It included advice on car bombing, torture, sabotage and disguise.
“We hope that this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror, and those members of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations literally can run but they can’t hide,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday.
“We will continue to try to bring people to justice in an appropriate way with the hopes that ultimately, these kinds of activities against everybody in the world will stop,” he added.
The raid in Somalia was carried out by members of SEAL Team Six, the same unit that captured and killed bin Laden, according to an American military spokesman. He added that the commandos decided to abort the mission after encountering fierce resistance from al-Shabab fighters.
While officials described the timing of the two weekend raids as strictly coincidental, they did draw renewed attention to the fact that northern Africa has become a haven and breeding ground for international terrorists.
Since Gadhafi was ousted in 2011, Libya has been ill-equipped to deal with the problem. It is now controlled by a patchwork of militias while Somalia, the birthplace of al-Shabab, has not had an effective central government for more than 20 years.
It’s no wonder that jihadists, indoctrinated in anti-Western beliefs, should find fertile philosophical soil when there’s no effective authority to counter what they see as their sacred mission.
In short, the war on terrorism will be long.
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