US reportedly targeted 20 in Somalia

Updated: 2007-01-11 06:02

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Ethiopia's prime minister said Wednesday the US military targeted 20 high-level members of an Islamic movement linked to al-Qaida in an airstrike this week in southern Somalia, attacking quickly before the Islamists could escape.

In this photo released by the US Navy, an F/A-18E Super Hornet from the 'Pukin' Dogs' of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 143 launches from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007. [AP]
The chief of staff for the Somali president claimed that a senior al-Qaida figure was killed in Monday's airstrike, although US officials did not confirm it.

The air assault has been criticized internationally, with the African Union, European Union and United Nations among those expressing concern. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair told lawmakers it was right to stand up to extremists who were using violence to "get their way" in Somalia.

Somali lawmaker Abdulrashid Hidig said the US launched a new airstrike Wednesday around Ras Kamboni, a rugged coastal area a few miles from the Kenyan border where Monday's attack took place. He cited the Somali military as the source of the information.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told reporters in his country's capital, Addis Ababa, that eight suspected terrorists were killed in Monday's airstrike, five were wounded and taken into custody by Ethiopian forces, and seven escaped.

Meles said most of the victims were Somali, but the identities would not be confirmed until DNA testing is completed.

He said Ethiopia and the US have been cooperating on intelligence, and that most of the information has come from the Americans. He also said the Ethiopians did not provide any intelligence that led to Monday's airstrike.

"I do not know how the Americans got the information, but they appeared to have some credible information," he said. "Apparently they felt if they did not strike quickly, the target would be missed."

However, a US military official based in the region said the Ethiopian military had provided the intelligence that led to the strike. "We acted on time-sensitive intelligence and made the strike in cooperation with the Ethiopians," said the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity surrounding US special operations missions.

In Washington, an intelligence official said the US killed five to 10 people Monday in the attack on an al-Qaida target in southern Somalia. A Somali lawmaker said 31 civilians died Tuesday when helicopter gunships attacked suspected al-Qaida fighters in the south.

The US military official said Tuesday's strike was probably carried out by Ethiopia since the aircraft were identified as Russian-made Hind helicopter gunships like those used by the Ethiopian military.

Abdirizak Hassan, the Somali president's chief of staff, said at least three US airstrikes have been launched since Monday and that more were likely.

The al-Qaida suspect believed to have been killed Monday was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who allegedly planned the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Hassan said. He cited a US intelligence report that was given to Somali authorities.

If confirmed, it would mean the end of an eight-year hunt for one of the FBI's most-wanted terrorists. Fazul was believed to have been harbored by the Somali Islamic movement that had challenged the country's Ethiopian-backed government for power.

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