Foreign military forces carried out a pre-dawn strike on Saturday against foreign fighters in the same southern Somali village where U.S. Navy SEALS four years ago killed a most-wanted al-Qaeda operative, officials said.

The strike was carried out in the town of Baraawe in the hours before morning prayers against what one official said were “high-profile” targets. The strike comes exactly two weeks after al-Shabaab militants attacked Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, a four-day terrorist assault that killed at least 67 people in neighbouring Kenya.

The leader of al-Shabaab, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Godane, claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was in retaliation for Kenya’s military deployment inside Somalia.

A resident of Baraawe, a seaside town 240 km south of Mogadishu, said by telephone that heavy gunfire woke up residents before dawn prayers. An al-Shabaab fighter who gave his name as Abu Mohamed said “foreign” soldiers attacked a house, prompting militants to rush to the scene to capture a foreign soldier. Mohamed said that effort was not successful.

The foreign troops attacked a two-story house close to the beach in Baraawe, battling their way inside, said Mohamed, who said he had visited the scene of the attack. Foreign fighters resided in the house, Mohamed said. Al-Shabaab has a formal alliance with al-Qaada, and hundreds of foreign fighters from the U.S., Britain and Middle Eastern countries are known to fight alongside Somali members of al-Shabaab.

A Somalia intelligence official said the targets of the raid were “high-profile” foreigners in the house. The intelligence official also said the strike was carried out by a foreign military. Somalia’s nascent Army does not have the ability to carry out a stealth night-time strike. A second intelligence official also confirmed the attack. Both insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

Foreign militaries, often the U.S. but not always, have carried out several strikes inside Somalia in recent years against al-Shabaab or al-Qaeda leaders, as well as criminal kidnappers.

A Western intelligence official said it appeared likely that either U.S. or French forces carried out the attack. The official insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

Another resident of Baraawe, who gave his name as Mohamed Bile, said militants in Baraawe closed down the town in the hours after the assault, and that all traffic and movements have been restricted. Militants were carrying out house-to-house searches, likely to find evidence that a spy had given intelligence to a foreign power used to launch the attack, he said.

“We woke up to find al-Shabaab fighters had sealed off the area and their hospital is also inaccessible,” Mr. Bile told The Associated Press by phone. “The town is in a tense mood.”

In September 2009, a daylight commando raid carried out by Navy SEALs in Baraawe killed six people, including Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of the most-wanted al-Qaeda operatives in the region and an alleged plotter in the 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 250 people.

Military raids carried out by troops on the ground carry the risk of a troops being killed or captured, but they also allow the forces to collect bodies or other material as evidence. Missile strikes from sea of unmanned drones carry less risk to troops but increase the chances of accidental civilian deaths.

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