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Somalia's Interim Leader Agrees With US Strike

Somalia's interim president say a U.S. strike late Monday on al-Qaida hideouts in his country was the right thing to do. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi reports the air strike targeted several al-Qaida operatives involved in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Speaking to Somali reporters in Mogadishu, interim President Abdullahi Yusuf said al-Qaida terrorists had been using the lawless Horn of African country as a safe haven and a base for their operations for years.

He said he did not blame the United States for taking action against them.

Yusuf says the United States had a right to attack the men, who carried out the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam and who are now on the run. He says the same men were probably also involved in the bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in the Kenyan coastal town of Mombasa in 2002.

Somali sources in the southern port of Kismayo tell VOA that an AC-130 airplane attacked at least two villages Monday night near the southern-most tip of Somalia, near the Kenyan border. The U.S. Air Force Special Operations gunship is capable of firing thousands of rounds per second and can flatten a building in minutes.

Witnesses and Somali government officials say many people were killed in the attack, but the exact numbers of dead and wounded were not immediately known.

It is also not yet clear who the intended targets were.

Somali government officials have recently said that several radical leaders of Somalia's ousted Islamist movement and the three al-Qaida men wanted by the United States - Sudanese Abu Taha al-Sudani, Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, and Comoros native Fazul Abdullah Mohammed - were believed to be hiding in the vicinity of the southern Islamist stronghold of Ras Kamboni. They fled there after abandoning Mogadishu on December 27, before advancing Somali government and Ethiopian troops reached the capital.

The interim-government defense minister said Monday that his troops fought a fierce two-day battle against Islamist fighters near Ras Kamboni and were poised to take it.

Last week, Kenya sealed its border with Somalia and the U.S. Navy sent three warships to patrol the coast to prevent al-Qaida and its Somali Islamist allies from fleeing the area.

In a possible indication that more intensive military operations against al-Qaida may soon begin in Somalia, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet Commader Kevin Aandahl says the Naval Carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower has also been deployed in the Horn.

"They are now operating off the coast of Somalia," he said. "This is a prudent step being employed to deter individuals that have links to al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations, to deny them the use of the sea as an escape route."

Late last month, troops loyal to the U.N.-recognized Somali interim government and Ethiopia's military drove out Somalia's Islamist leaders, who had controlled large parts of the country for nearly seven months. The islamists are accused of having deep ties with anti-Western terrorist networks.