Somalia's interim-government spokesman says the government cannot confirm one of the three key al-Qaida operatives involved in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in East Africa has been killed in a U.S. air strike in southern Somalia. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi reports.
The Associated Press news agency quoted the chief of staff of Somalia's interim president, who said he had received a preliminary report from American officials about the results of Monday's air strike. The report said that al-Qaida suspect Fazul Abdullah Mohamed had been killed in the attack, near the Somali border with Kenya.
Somali interim-government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari says government officials and troops are now trying to verify the information.
"Our forces and officials are trying to know if this information is right or wrong. We cannot confirm it," said Dinari.
Born in Comoros, Fazul Abdullah Mohamed joined al-Qaida in Afghanistan and is believed to have planned the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200 people. He eluded capture for nearly a decade, despite a $5 million bounty.
The United States believes that Mohamed and two other al-Qaida operatives fled Mogadishu late last month with several senior leaders of Somalia's radical Islamist movement, as the country's government troops, backed up by the Ethiopian military, advanced on the capital.
A U.S. airplane pursued the suspects near the Islamist stronghold of Ras Kamboni, in southern Somalia near the border with Kenya. The air strike was the first American military offensive in Somalia since a humanitarian mission ended in disaster in 1993.
In Washington, U.S. officials said the air attack was ordered after receiving credible intelligence about the whereabouts of the al-Qaida suspects. An American newspaper Tuesday quoted an unidentified U.S. diplomat, who acknowledged that the United States was working with Somali clans to locate the al-Qaida fugitives.
That prompted media speculation that U.S. officials may have received critical intelligence from elders of the Ayr, a sub-clan of the most powerful clan in Mogadishu, the Hawiye.
Two of the Somali Islamist leaders wanted by Washington for having ties to al-Qaida are the movement's supreme leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys and the founder and leader of the radical Shabbab group, Adan Hashi Ayro.
Both are Ayr clan members, who are believed to have protected the al-Qaida operatives in Mogadishu.
But Nairobi-based Somali expert Matt Bryden says the Ayr clan would not have been able to provide the United States with intelligence good enough to pin-point the location of the Islamists and their al-Qaida allies in the Ras Kamboni area.
"This would have had nothing to do with the Ayr clan," he said. "This is a region inhabited by the Ogaden clan and particularly people who would be sympathetic to Hassan Turki, who is one of the militant leaders within the courts. And so, that would much more likely be the source of information and of assistance to the United States, if they were looking for intelligence in that part of Somalia."
Sources in Kismayo tell VOA that U.S. planes hunting for al-Qaida suspects attacked several more areas near Ras Kamboni on Wednesday. The report could not be independently confirmed.