A senior al-Qaida suspect wanted for bombing American embassies in East Africa was killed in a U.S. airstrike, a Somali official said Wednesday, a report that if true would mean the end of an eight-year hunt for a top target of Washington’s war on terror.
There was no immediate confirmation from the U.S. In Washington, a U.S. intelligence official said the U.S. killed five to 10 people in an attack on an al-Qaida target in southern Somalia but did not say who was killed. 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.
The report came as U.S forces apparently launched a third day of airstrikes in southern Somalia. Witnesses said an AC-130 gunship attacked a suspected al-Qaida training camp. At least four separate strikes were reported Wednesday around Ras Kamboni, on the Somali coast and a few miles from the Kenyan border.
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. It was the first indication that the U.S. military may expand its campaign.
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who allegedly planned the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, was killed in a U.S. airstrike early Monday morning local time, according to an American intelligence report passed on to the Somali authorities.
“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 Associated Press. “One of the items they were claiming was that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is dead.”
If confirmed Mohammed’s death would be a major victory for the U.S. in its hunt for the 1998 embassy bombers. The strike was part of the first U.S. offensive in the African country since 18 American soldiers were killed there in 1993.