Islamist Al-Shabab fighters
Islamist al-Shabab fighters patrol the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, June 22, 2009. Reuters

A U.S. Navy SEAL team has captured a senior leader of al-Shabab, the Somali militant group that claimed responsibility for the deadly attack in a Nairobi shopping mall in Kenya last month.

The team seized an unidentified target in a predawn firefight in the seaside Somali town of Barawe Saturday in what the New York Times called “the most significant raid by American troops on Somali soil since commandos killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan” four years ago. Barawe is known as a gathering point for the swelling ranks of foreign fighters that have joined al-Shabab, which is allied with al Qaeda.

“The Barawe raid was planned a week and a half ago,” a U.S. security official told the Times. “It was prompted by the Westgate attack.”

Somali insurgents stormed the popular Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi two weeks ago, leaving more than 60 dead in a machine-gun and rocket-propelled-grenade attack targeting Western shoppers.

A representative of al-Shabab confirmed that one of its fighters was killed in a gun battle, but it was unclear whether the SEAL team’s target was taken alive or dead.