Tue Sep 15, 2009 10:48am EDT
MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Somalia’s al Shabaab insurgents denounced a U.S. commando raid that killed one of Africa’s most wanted al Qaeda suspects and vowed on Tuesday to continue their fight against Western nations.
U.S. special forces in helicopters struck a car in rebel-held southern Somalia on Monday, killing the Kenyan said to have built the truck bomb that claimed 15 lives at an Israeli-owned beach hotel on the Kenyan coast in 2002.
Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, 28, was also accused of involvement in a simultaneous, but botched, missile attack on a Israeli airliner packed with tourists as it left nearby Mombasa.
Several senior Somali government sources said he had been killed along with four other foreign members of al Shabaab, which Washington describes as al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.
The rebel group responded angrily to his death.
“Al Shabaab will continue targeting Western countries, especially America … we are killing them and they are hunting us,” an al Shabaab spokesman, Sheikh Bare Mohamed Farah Khoje, told Reuters by telephone from the southern region of Gedo.
“We wish we could eradicate them all. We will never forget our brothers who were targeted illegally by the United States.”
The attack marked an apparent change in tactics for the U.S. military, which has previously targeted wanted militants in Somalia using missiles, as opposed to helicopter-borne troops.
Western security agencies say the failed Horn of Africa state has become a safe haven for militants, including foreigners, who use it to plot attacks in the region and beyond.
Another Islamist group linked to al Shabaab also expressed its outrage and said the raid would feed local resentment.
“WE CONDEMN AMERICA”
“This will only increase Somalis’ hatred for the United States,” Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim Bilal, chairman of Amal Islam, told Reuters. “The United States never abides by international law. We condemn America. All these raids show its war on Islam.”
A moderate Somali militia that has been battling al Shabaab praised the U.S. operation, however, and called for more strikes to wipe out foreign jihadists hiding in Somalia.
“We are very pleased with the helicopters that killed the foreign al Shabaab fighters,” Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yussuf, the spokesman for Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca, told Reuters.
“God sent birds against those who attacked the Holy Mosque, the Ka’ba, millennia ago. The same way, God has sent bombers against al Shabaab. We hope more aircraft will destroy the rest of al Shabaab, who have abused Islam and massacred Somalis.”
Ahlu Sunna has fought al Shabaab for months across Somalia’s central and southern regions. It is allied with the U.N.-backed government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, which controls just parts of the central region and some of Mogadishu.
Nabhan was killed near Roobow village in Barawe District, 250 km (150 miles) south of the capital.
A U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. special forces aboard two helicopters that flew from a U.S. Navy ship opened fired on a vehicle that they believed contained Nabhan. They then took the body into custody, the official said, and were confident it was Nabhan.
“We appreciate the good job they have done,” Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke told Reuters in Mogadishu, referring to the U.S. armed forces.
The U.S. military has launched several airstrikes inside Somalia in the past against individuals including those blamed for the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Ora Anter, mother of two Israeli boys who were killed in the 2002 bombing of the Paradise Hotel near Mombasa, told Israeli Army Radio that news of Nabhan’s death brought her no pleasure.
“This isn’t something you can feel happy over, that they have been killed and are no more. Unfortunately there will be (more terror attacks), they rise up like mushrooms,” she said.
(Reporting by Reuters journalists in Somalia, Kenya, the United States and Israel; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Giles Elgood)