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US Confirms Airstrike Kills Deputy Leader of IS Militants in Somalia

U.S. Air Force officer passes in front of a MQ-9 Reaper drone, one of a squadron that has arrived to step up the fight against the Taliban, at the Kandahar air base, Afghanistan, Jan. 23, 2018.

Harun Maruf contributed to this report.

PENTAGON — The U.S. military confirmed Monday that it carried out an airstrike that killed the deputy leader of Islamic State militants in Somalia.

U.S. Africa Command said Sunday's airstrike near the village of Xiriiro in Somalia's Bari region killed Abdihakim Mohamed Ibrahim.

AFRICOM says Ibrahim, also known as Dhoqob, "was responsible for the daily operations of the extremist group, attack planning and resource procurement.

Abdisamad Mohamed Gallan, security minister of Somalia's Puntland region, told VOA's Somali Service that the airstrike hit the vehicle in which Dhoqob and another passenger were traveling. He said both men were killed, but the other person had not yet been identified.

"The vehicle was burned," said a witness who did not want to be named.

IS Somalia is led by Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, a former scholar for militant group al-Shabab. In October 2015, he defected from the group and pledged his allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

Dhoqob was Mumin's right-hand man and had appeared in videos produced by the group. Mumin himself survived another airstrike in his mountainous hideout in Bari region in November 2017.

"Killing one of their top leaders will speed up their eradication," Gallan said.

The U.S. has carried out scores of military strikes in Somalia in recent years, mostly targeting al-Shabab. This year alone, the U.S. has carried out more than 30 airstrikes in the African country.

IS has between 200 and 300 men in Somalia, according to experts. Al-Shabab and IS have recently been fighting in the eastern mountainous areas since December of last year.

Al-Shabab has vowed to eliminate its rival IS, accusing it of "dividing the jihadists." Security officials told VOA Somali that IS has lost some of its territory to al-Shabab.