MOGADISHU, (Reuters) – A Somali militia opposed to Islamist insurgents al Shabaab praised a U.S. commando raid that killed one of the region’s most wanted al Qaeda suspects and called for more strikes to wipe out foreign jihadists.
U.S. special forces in helicopters struck a car in rebel-held southern Somalia on Monday, killing the Kenyan said to have built the truck bomb that claimed 15 lives at an Israeli-owned beach hotel on the Kenyan coast in 2002.
“We are very pleased with the helicopters that killed the foreign al Shabaab fighters,” Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yussuf, the Ahlu Sunna spokesman, told Reuters late on Monday.
“God sent birds against those who attacked the Holy Mosque, the Ka’ba, millennia ago. The same way, God has sent bombers against al Shabaab. We hope more aircraft will destroy the rest of al Shabaab, who have abused Islam and massacred Somalis.”
Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, 28, was also accused of involvement in a simultaneous, but botched, missile attack on a Israeli airliner full of tourists as it took off from nearby Mombasa.
A senior Somali government source said he was killed along with four other foreign members of the al Shabaab insurgent group, which Washington says is al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.
Western security agencies say the failed Horn of Africa state has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, who use it to plot attacks in the region and beyond.
Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca has fought al Shabaab for months across Somalia’s central and southern regions and is allied with the U.N.-backed government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, whose administration controls parts of the central region and some of Mogadishu.
Nahban was killed near Roobow village in Barawe District, some 250 km (150 miles) south of the capital. U.S. sources familiar with the operation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States believed his body was in U.S. custody.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment “on any alleged operation in Somalia”. The U.S. military has launched airstrikes inside Somalia in the past against individuals blamed for the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1988.
In May last year, U.S. warplanes killed the then-leader of al Shabaab and al Qaeda’s top man in the country, Afghan-trained Aden Hashi Ayro, in an attack on the central town of Dusamareb.
Violence has killed more than 18,000 Somalis since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.5 million from their homes.
That has triggered one of the world’s worst aid emergencies, with the number of people needing help leaping 17.5 percent in a year to 3.76 million, or half the population.