al-Shabab fighters march with their weapons during military exercises on...

al-Shabab fighters march with their weapons during military exercises on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. Credit: AP, 2011

Life imitated art in Libya and Somalia in recent days when U.S. special operations forces targeted terrorist leaders in daring, virtually simultaneous raids. The two operations -- in Libya, where commandos captured an al-Qaida leader, and in Somalia where they missed grabbing a leader of the group responsible for the Kenyan mall massacre -- played out like thrillers scripted for the movies. But the raids were a dose of cold reality for international terrorists.

They delivered an essential message: The United States will hunt down terrorists and hold them accountable no matter where they hide or how long it takes. That resolve must be demonstrated time and time again for the United States to prevail in the war on terror.

Al-Qaida leader Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, also known as Anas al-Libi, learned his lesson Saturday. He was captured in Libya, hustled aboard a Navy ship in the Mediterranean for interrogation and is expected to stand trial in New York in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The al-Shabab leader targeted in Somalia slipped away -- this time. U.S. Navy SEALs swam ashore and stormed his hideout Friday, but withdrew after encountering heavy fire. He shouldn't rest easy. Terrorists "can run but they can't hide," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.

Unfortunately, the locations of the raids emphasized a tough challenge for the United States. Libya and Somalia are failed states where government control is spotty at best. Such lawlessness often provides safe haven for terrorists. Sadly there's no shortage of such places in Africa, which has emerged as a terrorist hot spot.

The United States should do what it can to respect fledgling governments and to support responsible factions seeking power in such difficult circumstances, but not at the expense of restraining the U.S. kill-or-capture anti-terror campaign. That must be unrelenting.

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