An air strike in Somalia by U.S. armed forces targeted the leader of the Islamist militant group al Shabaab, Ahmed Abdi Godane, Somali and U.S. officials said on Tuesday, but they said it was unclear whether he was killed in the attack.
“We don’t know that he’s dead. But he was the target,” one U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Other U.S. officials said they believed Godane was killed in the strike late on Monday against a location where senior members of the al Qaeda-linked group were meeting, but the U.S. government has not confirmed this yet or given further details.
If Godane were killed, it would be a major victory against the al Shabaab militants fighting the Western-backed government of Somalia, which is also supported by African Union troops.
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 last year.
The militants have also carried out guerrilla attacks in parts of the Somali capital Mogadishu, as well as in neighbouring Kenya and Uganda.
Godane’s close associate, Ahmed Mohamed Amey, was killed by a U.S. 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 then.
The U.S. 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.
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