A missile strike has reportedly killed the al-Qaida-trained founder and leader of Somalia's militant al-Shabab insurgent group in central Somalia. Aden Hashi Ayro was on the U.S. list of suspected terrorists giving sanctuary to al-Qaida operatives believed to be responsible for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
Residents in the Somali town of Dusamareb, about 480 kilometers north of the capital Mogadishu, say a thunderous explosion woke them out of bed before dawn.
An eyewitness, Elmi Hassan, tells VOA that the house where Aden Hashi Ayro had been staying was engulfed in flames after being hit by what Hassan believes were missiles.
Hassan says he is not sure whether the missiles were fired from a plane or launched from a ship, but he says they destroyed the house and killed people and animals. Hassan says he had seen American planes flying over the area in recent days.
In a telephone interview with Somali journalists, the spokesman for the radical Shabab movement Sheik Muktar Robow confirmed that Ayro, another senior Shabab leader, and seven other people were killed in an air strike, which he blamed on the United States.
Robow, who is also known as Abu Mansour, calls Ayro a martyr and says the attack will not deter Ayro's followers from their fighting.
According to numerous Somali and western intelligence sources, Ayro received terrorist training from al-Qaida in Afghanistan in the 1990s and gave protection to al-Qaida operatives wanted by the United States for their role in the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa 10 years ago.
Ayro is also believed to have played a key role in establishing ties between al-Qaida and the ultra-fundamentalist Shabab movement, which had functioned as the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union during its six-month rule over much of southern and central Somalia in 2006. The Shabab is a State Department designated terrorist group.
The courts' links to al-Qaida through the Shabab prompted Ethiopia, with U.S. support, to invade Somalia, oust the Islamic Courts Union, and install a secular, but unpopular, interim government in Mogadishu in December, 2006.
Ayro fled Mogadishu ahead of the Ethiopian invasion and barely survived a U.S. missile attack last January in Ras Kamboni, near Somalia's border with Kenya. In November, the hiding Islamist leader released an audio recording, urging attacks on African Union peacekeepers.
The town where Ayro was killed, Dusamareb, lies in the Galgadud region of central Somalia and is among a handful of towns in the region dominated by members of Ayro's clan, the Ayr.
The Ayr is a sub-clan of the Hawiye tribe that forms the majority in Mogadishu. Somali sources tell VOA that Ayro had sought refuge among the Ayr in the Galgadud region, while leading the Shabab in an Iraq-style insurgency against Ethiopian and Somali troops in the country.