Top al-Qaida suspect killed as US strikes continue

Death of al-Qaida suspect Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was detailed in an American intelligence report passed on to the Somali authorities.

somali terrorist 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
somali terrorist 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
A senior al-Qaida suspect wanted for bombing US embassies in East Africa was killed by US airstrikes, a Somali official said Wednesday as witnesses said US forces launched a third day of strikes. Also Wednesday, Somalia's Deputy Prime Minister said American troops were needed on the ground to root extremists from his troubled country, and he expected the troops soon. The death of al-Qaida suspect Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was detailed in an American intelligence report passed on to the Somali authorities. Mohammed, one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists who has evaded capture for eight years, was allegedly harbored by a Somali Islamic movement that had challenged this country's Ethiopian-backed government for power. "I have received a report from the American side chronicling the targets and list of damage," Abdirizak Hassan, the Somali president's chief of staff, told the AP. "One of the items they were claiming was that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is dead." In Washington, a US intelligence official said Tuesday the US killed five to 10 people believed to be associated with al-Qaida. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the operation's sensitivity, said a small number of others present, perhaps four or five, were wounded. Mohammed, 32, joined al-Qaida in Afghanistan and trained there with Osama bin Laden, the terror network's leader, according to the transcript of an FBI interrogation of a known associate. He has a US$5 million (€3.84 million) price on his head for allegedly planning the 1998 attacks on the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 225 people. He is also suspected of planning the car bombing of a beach resort in Kenya and the near simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner in 2002. Ten Kenyans and three Israelis were killed in the blast at the hotel. The missiles missed the airliner. Police at the Kenyan coastal border town of Kiunga on Monday arrested a wife of Mohammed, with her three children, according to an internal police report seen by the AP on Wednesday. Also Wednesday, at least four AC-130 gunship strikes took place around Ras Kamboni, the rugged area on the Somali coast a few kilometers (miles) from the Kenyan border that the US also attacked Monday, a local resident who declined to give his name told two-way radio operator Doorane Adan Harere in Nairobi, Kenya. On Tuesday, helicopter gunships attacked suspected al-Qaida fighters in the south, a day after US forces staged airstrikes in the first offensive in the African country since 18 American soldiers were killed there in 1993, witnesses said. In three days of attacks near Afmadow, a town in a forested area close to the Kenyan border, traditional elder Haji Farah Qorshel said 64 civilians had been killed and 100 injured. There was no independent confirmation of his claim. The Ethiopian military provided the targeting information, a US military official said on Wednesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity surrounding US Special Operations missions. Presidential chief of staff Hassan said at least three US airstrikes have been launched since Monday and that more are likely. He also said local intelligence reports indicated Abdirahman Janaqow, one of the deputy leaders of the rival Islamic movement, had also been killed in the attack. Somalia's Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Aideed said US special forces are needed on the ground as government forces backed by Ethiopia are unable to capture the last remaining hideouts of suspected extremists. "The only way we are going to kill or capture the surviving al-Qaida terrorists is for US special forces to go in on the ground," Aideed, a former US Marine said. "They have the know-how and the right equipment to capture these people." No American troops are yet believed to be in Somalia, Aideed said, but covert operations on the ground may be under way. "As far as we are aware they are not on the ground yet, but it is only a matter of time," he said. Somalia's president said the US attacks had his support. In Mogadishu Wednesday, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at Ethiopian troops in the south of the capital, but missed the target and hit a house, injuring two civilians, said Khadija Muhyadin. Four people were killed in a similar attack on Tuesday, doctors told the AP. US Defense Department officials, speaking privately Tuesday in Washington because the department was not releasing the information, suggested the US military was either planning or considering additional strikes in Somalia. With a US aircraft carrier off Somalia's coast, commanders can call in strikes. US Defense Department officials said that, as of Tuesday. Three other US warships were conducting anti-terror operations off Somalia's coast. Somali Islamic extremists are accused of sheltering the embassy bombing suspects, and American officials also want to make sure the militants will no longer pose a threat to Somalia's UN-backed transitional government. US warships have been seeking to capture al-Qaida members thought to be fleeing since Dec. 24, when Ethiopia's military invaded in support of the Somali government and drove the Islamic militia out of the capital and toward the Kenyan border. In the capital, some said the attacks would increase anti-American sentiment in the largely Muslim country, where people are already upset by the presence of troops from neighboring Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population. Leaders of Somalia's Islamic movement have vowed from their hideouts to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war, and al-Qaida deputy chief has called on militants to carry out suicide attacks on Ethiopian troops. Meanwhile in Mogadishu, former President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan, who is close to the Islamic movement, met with the current interim president Wednesday. They both expressed support for an African peacekeeping force to replace Ethiopian troops in the country. Somalia has not had an effective central government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other. The interim government was established in 2004.