Mogadishu (AFP) – The U.S. military carried out a drone strike targeting Al Shebab in Somalia on Monday, a U.S. official told AFP, as witnesses said a car belonging to the Al-Qaeda-linked militants was destroyed.
Witnesses reported that there were casualties from the strike on the vehicle, which was carrying “at least three” people including senior members of the Islamist group when it was hit.
The strike comes weeks after an audacious attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi claimed by Al Shebab in which at least 67 people were killed.
“We are getting that a missile struck one of the Shebab vehicles near Jilib,” south of the capital Mogadishu, local resident Abdi Moalim told AFP by telephone.
“Some people who stayed near the area told us it was an aerial bombardment targeting a vehicle,” he said, adding that the vehicle was carrying “at least three” people.
Another resident who spoke on condition of anonymity said he heard an explosion and the sound of a plane overhead.
“We don’t know who was killed but I can confirm that there was an attack, aircraft sounded over the sky and a few minutes later a heavy explosion followed. No one can dare go to check what happened, the Shebab will kill you,” he said.
The American official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the missile was a drone strike conducted by the U.S. army.
The source did not specify where the drone was launched, but the U.S. army operates the devices from bases in Dijbouti and Arba Minch in southern Ethiopia.
No Shebab members could immediately be reached for comment.
The latest strike follows a raid by U.S. Navy SEALS on the southern port of Barawe in early October that failed to hit its alleged target: a senior Shebab militant leader and Kenyan of Somali origin called Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, also known as Ikrima.
The Shebab have been driven out of Somalia’s major towns, including the capital Mogadishu and the key southern port of Kismayo, by a UN-mandated African Union force that now numbers 17,700 men.
However the group still controls large swathes of southern Somalia and has over the past few months stepped up the scale of its suicide attacks.
There are fears that they will follow through on their threat to launch further attacks, after earlier this month bragging in propaganda posters at rallies in Somalia that “Westgate was just the beginning”.
Witnesses in the mall described how the fighters stormed the complex around midday on September 21 when it was crowded with shoppers.
The gunmen coldly executed scores of people, with witnesses recounting how in some cases they called out to those wounded, then finished them off at close range.
Shebab insurgents said the attack was in revenge for Kenya military action against the group in southern Somalia.
Kenya invaded southern Somalia to attack Shebab bases two years ago, and later joined the 17,700-strong African Union force deployed in the country.
The group warned Kenya after the assault that “rivers of blood” would flow if it did not pull its troops out of Somalia.
At least 15 people died on Saturday in a suicide attack in a restaurant in the central Somali town of Beledweyne, later claimed by the Shebab.