ABC News' Luis Martinez (@lmartinezabc) reports:
A U.S. official tells ABC News that the CIA has provided assistance to Somalia’s fragile government as it interrogates terrorism suspects, but refutes a report that the agency runs a secret prison in that unstable country.
A story published in The Nation said that the CIA was running a secret prison to house and interrogate terror suspects belonging to al Shabab, the Somali terror group linked to al Qaeda. The facility is said to be located in the in the basement of Somalia’s security in Mogadishu.
The report also described "a sprawling walled compound" recently set up in a remote corner of the Mogadishu airport that is used to train a Somali force in counterterrorism. Consisting of more than a dozen buildings, the facility is said to be protected by Somali soldiers though access is controlled by the CIA.
The U.S. official denied that there is a CIA counterterrorism detention facility in Somalia, but acknowledged that the CIA has provided support to Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) during interrogations of terror suspects.
According to the official, “the agency, as you would expect, provides counterterrorism support to the TFG fighting al Shabab in their own country.”
The official characterized that support as having occurred “on very rare occasions” when “CIA officers provide support to the TFG during debriefings of terror detainees in TFG custody.”
The official called the assistance “the logical and prudent thing to do.”
Senior U.S. officials have expressed concern that al Shabab may be trying to expand its terror operations beyond Somalia, much as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has launched attacks on western targets outside of Yemen.
Somalia is of particular concern because the TFG has little control beyond Mogadishu and U.S. government officials worry that those lawless regions might become a safe haven for al Shabab and other terror groups.
In the past, the US military has sometimes launched air strikes targeting al Qaeda leaders who have sought refuge in Somalia.
Most recently in late June, the secretive Joint Special Operations Command used a new tool against terror targets, for the first time using a drone to launch missiles at a terror suspect. The military has also been using drones to strike at terror suspects in Yemen, much like the CIA has been doing over Pakistan’s tribal regions for several years.