(CNN) — U.S. military forces were involved in two separate operations in Africa — one of them targeting a member of the group Al-Shabaab, which was behind last month’s Kenya mall attack, and the other going after an al Qaeda leader tied to the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies.
The Al-Shabaab raid took place in Somalia, where that terrorist group is based, sometime in the past 24 hours, a senior U.S. official said Saturday evening.
The team of U.S. Navy SEALs had to withdraw before it could confirm whether it killed the target because they came under fire, the official said. The SEALs made the “prudent decision” to withdraw rather than engage in further combat, according to the official.
The other mission ended in the capture of Abu Anas al Libi, who is suspected to have played a significant role in the August 7, 1998, bombings of American embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Nairobi, Kenya, U.S. officials said.
The key al Qaeda operative was captured by U.S. special operations forces in Tripoli, Libya, according to the officials.
This U.S. operation was conducted with the knowledge of the Libyan government, said one U.S. official.
It was not immediately known if the two operations were coordinated or even related: While Al-Shabaab is affiliated with al Qaeda, it is not known that al Libi had any connection with that group or was linked to last month’s deadly attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.
Still, it shows the U.S. military’s capabilities to strike quickly against terrorists — and not just using unmanned drones, as have been frequently used in Yemen, Pakistan and other locales.
Al-Shabaab long has been a target of Washington: It was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government in March 2008. The group is seeking to turn Somalia into a fundamentalist Islamic state, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, though it has targeted people outside that African country as well.
While the Somali group has been linked to a number of attacks, its most recent one on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall — which left at least 67 people dead — thrust it into the spotlight once again. Washington vowed to support Kenya’s government after the bloody, multi-day raid, which raised concerns that something like it could happen in the United States.
Why exactly U.S. forces went after the group recently in southern Somalia wasn’t immediately known.
It’s not believed that any SEALs died in that raid.
South-central Somalia is where most of the group’s foreign fighters and leaders live and is heavily guarded. The group there has been increasingly squeezed as Kenyan forces fight the group from the south and African Union forces come down from Mogadishu.
In some ways, U.S. authorities have had their eyes on al Libi for even longer — even putting out a $5 million reward for information leading to him.
He is alleged to have played a key role in the August 7, 1998, bombings of American embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Nairobi, Kenya.
U.S. officials have wanted al Libi, 49, to face trial in an American court. As is, he’s been indicted on charges of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, murder, destruction of American buildings and government property, and destruction of national defense utilities of the United States.
The al Qaeda member had been seen in Tripoli, as CNN was first to report back in September 2012, citing Western intelligence sources. These sources said there was concern that al Libi was working to establish an al Qaeda network in Libya.