New details emerged Tuesday about the target of a failed U.S. mission in the Horn of Africa which, similarly to 1993's "Black Hawk Down" incident, ended with out-gunned U.S. commandos forced from Somalia without their intended quarry.
Operators from the U.S. Navy's elite SEAL Team Six were targeting a man known as "Ikrima," a Kenyan of ethnic Somali descent, in their nighttime raid on Friday. His real name is believed to be Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a top al-Shabab commander with strong ties to al-Qaida affiliates and a prodigy of the masterminds behind the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi and 2002 attacks on a Mombasa hotel and airline.
It is unclear what participation, if any, Ikrima played in al-Shabab's September assault on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya, though experts and analysts say he plays a key role in plots against top Kenyan officials and U.N. personnel in the region.
"Information about Ikrima is somewhat sketchy, but it is noteworthy that he takes his nom-de-guerre from Ikrima ibn Abi Jahl, a notorious Meccan opponent of the Muslim prophet Muhammad who turned into one of the most devout warriors of the Islamic cause," says J. Peter Pham, the director of the Atlantic Council's Africa Center. "[He] died leading the charge that turned the tide at the pivotal Battle of Yarmouk which ended the Byzantine rule of Syria in 636."
The terrorist leader Ikrima shaped his extremist ideology under the tutelage of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a commander of al-Qaida in East Africa who was killed in 2009, and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who U.S. commandos killed in 2009 near Barawe, the site of Friday's failed raid.
He moved from Kenya to Somalia in 2006, and has been put in charge of recruiting and training Kenyan fighters. Ikrima has subsequently carried out small-scale attacks, including drive-by shootings and grenade assaults, against Kenyan officials in that region.
Reuters reports he spent several years in Oslo after first arriving in Norway in 2004. He applied for asylum there but was denied, and eventually left in 2008.
"He is a planner who is relentless in coming up with operations in Kenya," Matt Bryden, a former U.N. official in East Africa, told Reuters. "He is one of the thinkers, planners, operational practitioners."
Commandos from SEAL Team Six, the unit that successfully raided Osama bin Laden's compound and killed the terrorist leader in 2011, reportedly conducted a sea-borne assault on an al-Shabab stronghold in coastal Barawe late Friday night. Foreign Policy reports the team successfully landed and set up in their planned positions, when a guard came outside to smoke a cigarette. It is unclear if the guard saw them, according to military officials, but he returned moments later and opened fire.
The SEAL commander decided the risk to his men and local civilians in the resulting firefight outweighed catching the terrorist leader.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the goal of the mission was to capture Ikrima under the Defense Department's authority to persecute al-Qaida leaders.
"While the operation did not result in Ikrima's capture, U.S. military personnel conducted the operation with unparalleled precision and demonstrated that the United States can put direct pressure on al-Shabaab leadership at any time of our choosing," he said in a statement.
Observers of East Africa have subsequently drawn comparisons between this mission and the highly publicized 1993 raid in Mogadishu conducted by U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force, considered the Army's answer to SEAL Team Six. That mission, in which troops had to respond to two of their own downed helicopters, was technically a success following the capture of top lieutenants of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.
Delta Force carried out a successful mission, also this weekend, and captured terrorist leader Abu Anas al Libi in Libya. He is currently being interrogated aboard the USS San Antonio.