MOGADISHU, Somalia, Sept 2, (Agencies): Al-Shabab’s top leader was traveling in one of two vehicles hit Monday night by a US military strike, a member of the Somali Islamic extremist group said Tuesday. The spokesman would not say whether Somali Ahmed Abdi Godane, the rebel leader, was among the six militants killed. The two vehicles were heading toward the coastal town of Barawe, al-Shabab’s main base, when they were hit, Abu Mohammed told The Associated Press. US military forces attacked the extremist al-Shabab network in Somalia Monday, the Pentagon confirmed.
A witness in Somalia described ground-shaking explosions caused by the strike. Somali government and African Union forces heading to a town in the district heard what sounded like an “earthquake” as the al-Shabab bases were hit, the governor of Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, Abdiqadir Mohamed Nor, told The Associated Press. The strike prompted rumours among Somali government officials that it had targeted al Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane and other leaders who were suspected to have been at the location, but there was no confirmation they were hit. If he were killed, it would be a major victory against the group.
Since taking charge in 2008, Godane has restyled the group as a global player in the al- Qaeda franchise — a transformation that was highlighted when it killed at least 67 people in an attack on a Kenyan shopping mall in September. The militants have also staged guerrilla attacks in parts of the capital, as well as in neighbouring Kenya and Uganda. Godane’s close associate, Ahmed Mohamed Amey, was killed by a US air strike in January. After the Westgate assault, Navy SEALS stormed ashore into the al Shabaab stronghold of Barawe, where a regional official said the air strike was launched against, but failed to capture or kill their target.
The US Department of Defense said late on Monday that its forces had carried out the operation against al Shabaab and would provide more information “when appropriate”. 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 Reuters on Tuesday. “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 Lower Shabelle region in southern Somalia, where the strike occurred, some 245 kms (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.