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New Airstrikes Reported in Southern Somalia

Helicopter gunships were seen launching new attacks in southern Somalia Tuesday, close to the site of a U.S. airstrike against suspected al-Qaida hideouts late Monday.

Witnesses were unsure if the new attacks were carried out by Ethiopian or American helicopters. There was no immediate word on casualties.

U.S. and Somali officials have confirmed Monday's airstrike. An AC-130 gunship attacked at least two villages in Somalia's southern tip, near the Kenyan border. Witnesses and Somali government officials say many people were killed but the exact number was unknown.

U.S. and Somali officials say the raids targeted several al-Qaida operatives allegedly involved in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. It was unclear if the al-Qaida members were among the casualties.

Somali interim President Abdullahi Yusuf says the United States has the right to strike at terrorists involved in the embassy bombings.

The attacks are the first acknowledged U.S. military action in Somalia since 1994, when U.S. troops left the country after 18 U.S. soldiers were killed during street fighting in Mogadishu.

In another development, a U.S. aircraft carrier - the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower - has arrived off the Somali coast. Officials say its aircraft are flying intelligence-gathering missions over the country.

Other American warships have been patrolling the coast to try to stop al-Qaida members and Islamist extremists from escaping by sea.

Islamist forces fled to southern Somalia late last month after being driven out of the capital, Mogadishu, and other strongholds by Ethiopian and Somali government troops.

The Islamists controlled much of southern Somalia for several months and tried to implement strict sharia law in the areas they ruled. The movement's leaders have denied any links with al-Qaida.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.