UNITED States military forces have attacked the extremist al-Shabaab network in Somalia, the Pentagon said.
Al-Shabaab attacked the upmarket Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 67 people, a year ago this month and the US had targeted planners of the bloody assault.
“US military forces conducted an operation in Somalia today against the al-Shabaab network. We are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate,” said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.
After the strike on Monday night in a forest south of the capital, Mogadishu, masked Islamic militants arrested dozens of residents they suspected of spying for the US and searched nearby homes, a resident said.
“Mass arrests just started, everyone is being detained,” said Mohamed Ali, who lives in Sablale district. “They even searched nearby jungles and stopped the nomads transporting milk and grass to towns for questioning.”
A senior Somali intelligence official said a US drone targeted al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane as he left a meeting of the group’s top leaders.
Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, is the group’s spiritual leader under whose direction the Somali militants forged an alliance with al-Qaeda.
The anonymous Somali official said intelligence indicated Godane “might have been killed along with other militants”.
The official said the attack took place in a forest near Sablale district, 105 miles south of Mogadishu, where al-Shabaab trains its fighters.
The governor of Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, Abdiqadir Mohamed Nor, said that as government and African Union forces were heading to a town in Sablale district, they heard what sounded like an “earthquake” as the al-Shabaab bases were hit.
“There was an airstrike near Sablale. We saw something,” Mr Nor said.
A US missile strike in January killed a high-ranking intelligence officer for al-Shabaab, and last October a vehicle carrying senior members of the group was hit in a US strike that killed al-Shabaab’s explosives expert.
The latest US action comes after Somalia’s government forces regained control of a high- security prison in the capital that was attacked on Sunday.
Seven heavily armed suspected al-Shabaab members had attempted to free other extremists held there. Somali officials said all seven attackers, three government soldiers and two civilians were killed.
Al-Shabaab attacked the shopping centre in Nairobi last year in retaliation against Kenya for sending troops into Somalia against the extremists.