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Somali official: Top al-Qaeda suspect killed in U.S. airstrike

10 January, 2007

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The suspected al-Qaeda militant who planned the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in east Africa was killed in an American airstrike in Somalia, an official said Wednesday.

"I have received a report from the American side chronicling the targets and list of damage," Abdirizak Hassan, the Somali president's chief of staff, told The Associated Press. "One of the items they were claiming was that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is dead."

Hassan said that American airstrikes in Somalia would continue.

"I know it happened yesterday, it will happen today and it will happen tomorrow," he said.

Mohammed allegedly planned the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 225 people.

He is also suspected of planning the car bombing of a beach resort in Kenya and the near simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner in 2002. Ten Kenyans and three Israelis were killed in the blast at the hotel, 12 miles north of Mombasa. The missiles missed the airliner.

Mohammed is thought to have been the main target of an American helicopter attack Monday afternoon on Badmadow island off southern Somalia.

U.S. attack helicopters also strafed suspected al-Qaeda fighters in southern Somalia on Tuesday, witnesses said.

The two days of airstrikes by U.S. forces were the first American offensives in the African country since 18 U.S. soldiers were killed here in 1993.

U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity because of its sensitive nature had said earlier that the strike in southern Somalia on Monday killed five to 10 people believed to be associated with al-Qaeda.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman on Tuesday spoke of one strike in southern Somalia, but would not address whether military operations were continuing. Other defense officials speaking on condition of anonymity suggested that more strikes were either planned or under consideration.

A Somali lawmaker said 31 civilians, including a newlywed couple, died in Tuesday's assault by two helicopters near Afmadow, a town in a forested area close to the Kenyan border. The report could not be independently verified.

A Somali Defense Ministry official described the helicopters as American, but witnesses told The Associated Press they could not make out identification markings on the craft. Washington officials had no comment on the helicopter strike.

Col. Shino Moalin Nur, a Somali military commander, told the AP by telephone late Tuesday that at least one U.S. AC-130 gunship attacked a suspected al-Qaeda training camp Sunday on a remote island at the southern tip of Somalia next to Kenya.

Somali officials said they had reports of many deaths.

On Monday, witnesses and Nur said, more U.S. airstrikes were launched against Islamic extremists in Hayi, 30 miles from Afmadow. Nur said attacks continued Tuesday.

"Nobody can exactly explain what is going on inside these forested areas," the Somali commander said. "However, we are receiving reports that most of the Islamist fighters have died and the rest would be captured soon."

Whitman said Tuesday that the assault was based on intelligence "that led us to believe we had principal al-Qaeda leaders in an area where we could identify them and take action against them."

Somali Islamic extremists are accused of sheltering suspects in the 1998 embassy bombings. American officials also want to ensure the militants no longer pose a threat to Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government.

The U.S. military said Tuesday that the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived off Somalia's coast and launched intelligence-gathering missions over Somalia. Three other U.S. warships were conducting anti-terror operations.

U.S. warships have been seeking to capture al-Qaeda members thought to be fleeing Somalia by sea after Ethiopia's military invaded Dec. 24 in support of the interim Somali government. The offensive drove the Islamic militia out of much of southern Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu, and toward the Kenyan border.

President Abdullahi Yusuf, head of the U.N.-backed transitional government, told journalists in Mogadishu that the U.S. "has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania."

Other Somalis in the capital said the attacks would increase anti-American sentiment in their largely Muslim country. Many Somalis are already upset by the presence of troops from neighboring Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population.

It was the first overt military action by the U.S. in Somalia since it led a U.N. force that intervened in the 1990s in an effort to fight famine. The mission led to clashes between U.N. forces and Somali warlords, including the battle, chronicled in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down," that killed 18 U.S. soldiers.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The warlords turned on each other, creating chaos in the nation of 7 million people.

courtesy: USA Today

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