KAMPALA, Uganda: Somali authorities are trying to verify whether the leader of al-Shabab was killed or wounded in a U.S. airstrike, a government spokesman said Wednesday.
Somalia's government is certain that the strike hit "a gathering" of leaders of the Islamist extremist Shabab group and they are "in the process" of confirming who was hit in the attack Monday night, said Abdiwali Ridwaan.
Ridwaan praised U.S. support in the war on the Al-Qaeda-linked militant group whose leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, claimed responsibility for a deadly attack a year ago on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
The strikes, conducted by special operations forces using manned and unmanned aircraft, targeted Godane, 37, Shabab's spiritual leader, the U.S. confirmed Tuesday.
The U.S. launched the operation based on "actionable" intelligence, said Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.
The U.S. strikes hit a car in which Godane was traveling after he left a meeting of the group's top leaders, adding that Godane "might have been killed along with other militants," a senior Somali intelligence official told The Associated Press Tuesday. At least six militants were killed in the attack, said a militant commander, Abu Mohammad, but he would not say if Godane was among the victims.
Shabab still control some parts of southern Somalia after being ousted from their bases in Mogadishu in 2011, and Somali government spokesman Ridwaan noted that it may take some time before there is confirmation about Godane's fate. An ongoing Somali military offensive is working to oust the militants from their last strongholds, including the coastal city of Barawe.
Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, was publicly named as leader of Shabab in December 2007 and has since exercised command responsibility for the group's operations across Somalia, according to the National Counterterrorism Center. Under his direction the Somali militants forged an alliance with Al-Qaeda, and in 2012 the U.S. offered a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to his arrest.