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‘Partner’ airstrike hits Somali Al-Qaeda militants’ convoy

MOGADISHU, Somalia: An airstrike from military airplanes hit a convoy carrying Al-Qaeda-linked militants in southern Somalia, and a defense official said Friday that foreign fighters were among those killed in an attack carried out by a “partner country.

” Military airplanes struck a militant convey as it drove along the coastline of the southern port city of Kismayo late Thursday, according to a resident there, Mohammad Aden.A leader inside the insurgent group Al-Shabaab, Sheikh Hassan Yaqub, confirmed the strike and said two militants were wounded. Aden, said he saw three wounded militants in Kismayo Friday.

Abdirashid Mohammad Hidig, Somalia’s deputy defense minister, said the attack was a coordinated operation that killed “many” foreign fighters.

“I have their names, but I don’t want to release them,” he said.

No nation immediately took responsibility for the attack, though U.S. airplanes have attacked militants in Somalia before. A U.S. airstrike killed a senior Al-Shabaab leader in 2008, while a U.S. commando raid in 2009 killed the militant wanted for the 2002 car bombing of a Kenyan beach resort.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman in neighboring Nairobi, Kenya, said all questions on the issue needed to be referred to the Pentagon.

Hidig said a “partner country” carried out the attack. He called it a successful military operation.

“The target was one of their [Al-Shabaab’s] most important fortresses where foreigners were staying,” he said. “It’s not only that attack but there will be further military attacks targeting them. There are casualties inflicted to them but we shall release that information later.” The overnight strike near Kismayo occurred near a militant camp, leading some residents to say the camp was being attacked.

“We heard bangs of explosions first and again after minutes, more loud blasts,” said Ali Abdinur, a resident, said by phone. “I don’t know what happened but the place was an Al-Shabaab camp.” Yaqub, the Al-Shabaab leader, talked to a militant-run radio station after the attack.

“Two enemy airplanesattacked our mujahedeen fighters at a time they were conducting a security patrol near Kismayo,” he told the radio station.

Aden, the Kismayo resident, said airplanes flew over Kismayo and that there were then two loud bangs. Militants immediately cordoned off the area and ferried the wounded – and possibly any dead – to the city.

Aden said he visited the scene of the attack and saw two destroyed pickup trucks and a third heavily damaged car.

“The damages to the cars indicate that there may have been deaths, but it is hard to confirm because the attack took place immediately after sunset and no one was allowed to access it until Friday morning,” he said.

Aden said that Al-Shabaab fighters had fired at the airplanes, including one helicopter.

The U.S. has a military base in the small nation of Djibouti, which lies directly to the north of Somalia. The U.S. Navy also patrols off the coast of East Africa as part of the international anti-piracy effort.

U.S. officials believe that Al-Shabaab counts several hundred foreign fighters among its ranks, including militant veterans of conflicts in Iraq and Pakistan.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 25, 2011, on page 10.

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