Somalia's al-Qaida leader killed in airstrike

Aden Hashi Ayro, his brother, another commander and six others die in attack; not immediately clear who was behind the operation.

somalia islamists 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
somalia islamists 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The man believed to be the head of al-Qaida in Somalia was killed in an air strike early Thursday along with 10 other people, an Islamic insurgent group and a witness said. The overnight strike killed Aden Hashi Ayro, his brother, another commander and six others in the central Somali town of Dusamareeb, said Sheik Muqtar Robow, the spokesman for the Islamic al-Shabab militia. Six more people were wounded, two of whom later died, resident Abdullahi Nor said. "Our brother martyr, Aden Hashi, has received what he was looking for - death for the sake of Allah - at the hands of the United States," Robow told The Associated Press by phone. "This would not deter us from continuing our holy war against Allah's enemy; we will be on the right way, that is why we are targeted. I call for our holy fighters to remain strong in their position and keep up the jihad," he added. It was not immediately clear who was behind the airstrike on the town, which is 310 miles north of Mogadishu. There was no immediate confirmation the US had carried out the airstrike. Over the past year, however, the US military has attacked several suspected extremists in Somalia, most recently in March when the US Navy fired at least one missile into a southern Somali town. Al-Shabab is the armed wing of the Council of Islamic Courts movement. The US State Department considers al-Shabab a terrorist organization. The US has repeatedly accused the Islamic group of harboring international terrorists linked to al-Qaida, which is allegedly responsible for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The US is concerned Somalia is a breeding ground for terrorist groups, particularly after the Islamic militants briefly gained control of the south and Osama bin Laden declared his support for them. The Council of Islamic Courts seized control of much of southern Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu, in 2006. But troops loyal to the UN-backed interim Somali government and the allied Ethiopian army drove the group from power in December 2006. In recent months, Al-Shabab has briefly taken several towns, freeing prisoners and seizing weapons from government forces. The insurgents usually withdraw after a few hours, but continue to target Ethiopian and Somali forces. Somali government officials say Ayro trained in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks and headed up al-Qaida's cell in Somalia. He was a key figure in the al-Shabab movement, which aims to impose Islamic law and launches daily attacks on the shaky Somali government and Ethiopian troops in the country. The fighting claimed thousands of lives last year and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes. Ayro has also called for attacks on African peacekeepers in Somalia, in a recording on an Islamic Web site. Sheik Muhidin Mohamud Omar, who Robow described as "a top commander" in the Al-Shabab, was also killed in Thursday's airstrike. A local elder, Ali Ahmed Said, said five people died inside the targeted house and the rest were in neighboring buildings. Earlier, Robow had said all the casualties were in one house. Local resident Nur Geele said the attack occurred around 3:00 a.m. (0000 GMT). "We heard a huge explosion and when we ran out of our house we saw a ball of smoke and flames coming out of the house where one of the leaders of al-Shabab Aden Hashi Ayro was staying," he said. Another resident, Nur Farah, said, "If you look at the site of the attack, you would believe there has never been a house." Robow vowed the militia would keep fighting. He said: "Those who were guiding the attack, including President Abdullahi Yusuf, we say to you 'If you feel happy with the death of our leader, you will regret it later...If Ayro is dead those he trained still remain strong and adamant to his way."'