An air strike in southern Somalia has killed two senior commanders of the militant Islamist group, Al Shabaab, residents have told the BBC. The strike destroyed the vehicle the militants were travelling in between the towns of Jilib and Barawe, seen as a major base of Al Shabaab, they said. The US launched a failed raid in Barawe earlier this month to capture an Al Shabaab commander. Al Shabaab is the main Al Qaeda-linked group in East Africa. A Kenyan military source told the BBC their troops had raided Jilib, and that there might have been some casualties. However, correspondents say it is unlikely that they carried out the air strike.
Residents of Jilib, some 120km (75 miles) north of the port of Kismayo, told the BBC that it was probably a drone attack that killed the Al Shabaab commanders. One of those killed was Al Shabaab’s top explosives expert, also known as Anta, a member of the group told the Associated Press.
“This afternoon, I heard a big crash and saw a drone disappearing far into the sky, at least two militants died,” local resident Hassan Nur was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying. “I witnessed a Suzuki car burning, many Al Shabaab men came to the scene. I could see them carry the remains of two corpses,” he said. “It was a heavy missile that the drone dropped. Many cars were driving ahead of me but the drone targeted this Suzuki.”
At least 67 people were killed last month when Al Shabaab fighters seized the Westgate shopping centre in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. US commandos raided Barawe after the attack, but had to retreat after meeting heavy resistance. The US was believed to have sought to capture Al Shabaab commander Abdukadir Mohamed Abdukadir, also known as Ikrima. Barawe residents say Ikrima is an Al Shabaab leader with responsibility for logistics, who is usually accompanied by about 20 well-armed guards.
The US has carried out a series of air strikes in Somalia. In 2008, one killed Al Shabaab commander Aden Hashi Ayro. A year later, another strike killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was accused of involvement in the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi and the 2002 attacks on a hotel and airline in Mombasa.
The US has a large military base in Djibouti, which borders Somalia. Al Shabaab has been driven out of several major towns and cities in southern Somalia but it still controls many rural areas.