US air strike kills al-Qaeda boss in Somalia
"A US air strike killed an Islamist commander thought to be al- Qaeda's leader in Somalia and at least a dozen other people on Thursday," the insurgents and witnesses said.
Aden Hashi Ayro, who led al Shabaab militants blamed for near daily attacks on government troops and their Ethiopian allies, died in the latest of several US bombings in recent months to have targeted Somali rebel leaders.
"Infidel planes bombed Dusamareb," Shabaab spokesman Mukhtar Ali Robow told Reuters by telephone, referring to a small town in central Somalia. "Two of our important people, including Ayro, were killed."
Fighting between the Islamists and allied Somali-Ethiopian troops has intensified in recent weeks, with an Iraq-style insurgency in Mogadishu and the rebels launching hit-and-run raids outside the capital.
Dusamareb residents said that several other Shabaab fighters and civilians were killed in a pre-dawn air strike. Local broadcaster Shabelle said insurgent leaders had been meeting there and put the total death toll at 15.
"Bits of human flesh are scattered on the ruins of the building," witness Farah Hussein told Reuters. "People are counting the skulls to know the exact figure."
Amina Warsame, another local, said that residents were woken at around 2 a.m. (Wednesday 2300 GMT) by two huge blasts. She said that she and her neighbours counted four planes overhead. Shabelle said they were US AC-130 gunships.
Security and intelligence sources say Ayro, who has been in hiding since he survived a US air strike in Jan. 2007, became al- Qaeda's leader in Somalia after training in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
He was one of six members or associates of al- Qaeda thought by the United States to be in Somalia. In late February, Washington officially listed the Shabaab as a terrorist organisation, saying it had close ties to Osama bin Laden's network.
The al Shabaab is the militant wing of the Somalia Islamic Courts Council that took over most of southern Somalia for the second half of 2006, until the interim government and Ethiopian forces routed it in a two-week war.
Under Ayro, the Shabaab had adopted Iraq-style tactics, including assassinations and roadside bombs and claimed at least one suicide bombing -- unheard of in Somalia's moderate Sufi Islamic customs.
Western security officials and diplomats say it has also been responsible for killing aid workers and journalists, the desecration of an Italian colonial-era cemetery in 2004 and scores of attacks during the insurgency.
In rare taped comments released in November, Ayro ordered his fighters to attack a small African Union peacekeeping force based in Mogadishu.
Civilians in the city have borne the brunt of fighting between the rebels and allied Somali-Ethiopian forces. A local rights group says clashes in the capital killed 6,500 residents last year alone.