US interrogators headed to a US warship in the Mediterranean to question a suspected Libyan al-Qaeda operative linked to the bombings of US embassies in Africa, as new details emerged on Monday about plots planned by a Kenyan militant who escaped a US raid in Somalia.
The two operations, thousands of kilometers apart in Africa and approved by US President Barack Obama, signaled a US readiness to go after militants in nations where authorities are unable to do so.
The suspect captured in Tripoli is under US federal indictment, but was being held in military custody aboard the USS San Antonio in international waters — detained under the laws of war as an enemy combatant.
A computer expert known as Abu Anas al-Libi, he is accused of using an early generation Apple computer to assemble surveillance photographs in Nairobi ahead of the deadly 1998 bombing of the US embassy, according to a former US law enforcement official.
The surveillance information was presented to late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who approved the bombing, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, a Kenyan intelligence report asserted the country had foiled attacks plotted by Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, the Kenyan militant who eluded capture by a team of US Navy SEALs in a predawn raid in Somalia on Saturday.
Also known as Ikrima, he was identified as the lead planner of a plot by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militant group targeting Kenya’s parliament building and the UN office in Nairobi in 2011 and last year.
The report by Kenya’s National Intelligence Service, which was leaked to the media in the wake of the Sept. 21 terror attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall that killed more than 60 people, lists Samantha Lewthwaite — a Briton dubbed the “White Widow” — as one of several “key actors” in the plot, which also targeted Kenyan military installations and top Kenyan political and security officials.
Lewthwaite, who was married to one of the suicide bombers in the 2005 attack on London’s transit system, escaped capture when she produced a fraudulently obtained South African passport. Late last month, Interpol issued an arrest warrant for Lewthwaite.
The report makes no mention of Abdulkadir in relation to the Nairobi mall attack, though in an entry dated exactly one year before the start of the four-day siege, it said al-Shabaab operatives in Nairobi were planning to mount “suicide attacks on an undisclosed date, targeting Westgate Mall and Holy Family Basilica.”
Frank Cilluffo, director of George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute, said the operation in Somalia underscores the threat posed by the convergence of insurgent groups, particularly al-Shabaab and the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
While Ikrima may not be a household name, he said, “you have someone who is truly a go-between between al-Shabaab, AQAP and probably al-Qaeda central.”
“What you’re seeing is some of the pooling of these various entities and between various organizations,” Cilluffo said.
Obama approved both operations independently, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday, saying it was “a coincidence” they happened at the same time.
As of Monday, al-Libi had not been read his rights to remain silent and speak with an attorney.