US strikes Somali militant camp in bid to kill al Shabaab leader
A US military airstrike in Somalia has targeted the leader of the Islamist militant group al Shabaab, Somali and US officials said, but they added it may take time to determine whether Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed.
The United States launched Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions to destroy an al Shabaab encampment in south-central Somalia late on Monday, the Pentagon said. It said both manned and unmanned aircraft were used in the operation.
Some US officials privately said they believed Godane was killed in the strike, but the US government was not ready to confirm that - even as it acknowledged the significance his death would have in the fight against the al Qaeda-linked group.
"If he was killed, this is a very significant blow to their network, to their organization, and, we believe, to their ability to continue to conduct terrorist attacks," said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.
Since taking charge in 2008, Godane has restyled the group as a global player in the al Qaeda network - a transformation that was highlighted when it killed at least 67 people in an attack on a Kenyan shopping mall in September last year.
The group has also been carrying out guerrilla attacks in parts of the Somali capital Mogadishu, where it is fighting the Western-backed government of Somalia.
Godane's close associate, Ahmed Mohamed Amey, was killed by a US air strike in January.
After the Westgate mall attack, Navy SEALS stormed ashore into the al Shabaab stronghold of Barawe, where a regional official said the latest air strike was also launched, but they failed to capture or kill their target.
The Somali government and al Shabaab officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
"There was an air strike at a base where senior members of al Shabaab had a meeting last night," a senior intelligence official who gave his name as Ahmed told reporters today.
"So far Godane's death is a strong rumour that may or may not turn to be true. What we know is that the militants were bombarded. However, it is difficult to know how many of them or who particularly died," he added.
Abdiqadir Mohamed Sidii, governor of the Lower Shabelle region in southern Somalia where the strike occurred some 245 km (150 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu, said he believed Godane and other senior al Shabaab members had been killed.
"We understand a US drone killed Ahmed Abdi Godane and other seven senior members last night near Hawaay area around Barawe town," Sidii told Reuters by phone.
Sidii did not say how he got the information on the attack, given the location is in an area still under al Shabaab control.