Navy SEALs' Somalia mission derailed in part by kids

Last Updated Oct 8, 2013 6:09 AM EDT

(CBS News) The target of one of two U.S. counterterrorism raids over the weekend was a Kenyan terror suspect wanted in a plot to attack the parliament building and U.N. headquarters in Nairobi, but the mission to capture him, in Somalia, had to be aborted.

His face has never been seen by the public but he goes by the name Ikrimah and he is a senior planner for the Somali terrorist group known as al-Shabab. He will now also be known as the one who got away from SEAL Team Six, which failed to capture him in a pre-dawn raid.

The SEALs came out of the Indian Ocean in small boats, but were spotted as they moved toward the seaside compound where they believed Ikrimah lived. A firefight broke out.

With the element of surprise gone, the SEALs had lost their chance to take him alive. The SEAL commander could have called in an air strike in an attempt to kill Ikrimah, but there were too many civilians, including children, in the compound. Instead, he ordered his men to withdraw back to their boats and to a Navy ship off shore.

There were no casualties among the SEALs. One or two of Ikrimah's men are believed to have been killed or wounded.

The aborted raid came just two weeks after al-Shabab launched the attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, but officials said the operation to snatch Ikrimah had been in the works long before that.

Officials who have been briefed on the operation said the SEAL commander made the right call in deciding to withdraw. The SEALs had not expected to find so many women and children, in effect human shields, in the compound.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.