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A US airstrike in Somalia targeted a leader of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Shabab Monday night, a day after suspected militants stormed a high security prison in Mogadishu.
A senior Somali intelligence official told The Associated Press that a US drone targeted Al Shabab leader Ahmed Godane. It is unclear whether or not Mr. Godane survived. He is known for pushing the militant group to attack targets outside Somalia and for announcing Al Shabab’s link to Al Qaeda.
“We are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate,” Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Monday.
The US designated Al Shabab a terrorist organization in 2008 and has targeted its leaders on at least two other occasions over the past year, reports CNN. The militant group, which aims to impose its version of Islam in Somalia, controlled much of the southern part of the country between 2006 and 2011.
The strike on Monday took place in a forest near the port city of Barawe, about 105 miles south of Mogadishu, a regional governor told CNN.
"I never heard such a huge and deafening blast as the result of the airstrike," said Abdikadir Mohamed Nur Sidii, governor of Somalia's Lower Shabelle region. "It jolted the entire region."
Al Shabab retaliated against locals in the area after the US strike, accusing them of spying for the United States, AP reports.
The attack came one day after Somali forces regained control of a high security prison in Mogadishu. Al Shabab fighters had stormed the NISA prison dressed in government uniforms, detonating a car bomb and firing their way into the building. Three security guards and two civilians were killed in Sunday's attack. The prison, located near to the presidential palace, held many Al Shabab members, reports CNN.
The US has about 100 Special Operations forces operating across Somalia, according to The New York Times. Joint efforts by Somalia, the US, and African forces to combat Al Shabab have resulted in some success in recent years, driving the group out of urban centers, including its former stronghold in Mogadishu.
But the militant group has become a threat beyond Somalia's borders. Al Shabab claimed responsibility for last year’s deadly attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Today, African leaders are meeting in Nairobi to discuss efforts to control Al Shabab and other militant groups operating across the continent. According to Bloomberg News:
Attacks by militants have killed thousands of people across the continent. Boko Haram Islamist militants in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, killed more than 2,000 people in the first half of this year in their campaign to impose Islamic rule, according to Human Rights Watch. On the other side of the continent, at least 179 people have died in “terrorist incidents” in Kenya, Bath-based risk consultancy Maplecroft said, while in Libya, Islamists are battling for control of the capital, Tripoli.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced at the summit that a fund will be created to combat militant groups, without providing further details.
The continent faces a “long road” ahead in dealing with extremists who pose the “gravest” threat to international peace and security, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said at the summit.