WASHINGTON — A US drone fired on two senior commanders of Somalia's Shebab Islamist insurgency after they were found to have ties to Al-Qaeda, the Washington Post reported late Wednesday, citing US officials.
The strike last week is believed to have wounded the two leading militants and came amid increasing concern among US officials about growing ties between Shebab and the global terror network, the Post said.
"They (Shebab fighters) have become somewhat emboldened of late and, as a result, we have become more focused on inhibiting their activities," it quoted an official as saying. "They were planning operations outside of Somalia."
The US military could not immediately be reached for comment.
The official quoted by the Post said the two commanders had "direct ties" to Anwar al-Awlaqi, a charismatic American-born preacher believed to be hiding in his family's native Yemen.
The US military has carried out a number of attacks in recent years against top Al-Qaeda militants believed to be hiding in Somalia, but last week's incident appeared to be the first drone strike, the Post said.
Last Thursday residents reported huge explosions near Kismayo, a southern port town controlled by Shebab, followed by the sound of aircraft.
A Shebab official in the area said his men had reported an aerial bombing raid on a Shebab base that wounded several fighters, including foreigners, and that he believed it was carried out by US aircraft.
In January 2007 a US air raid left dozens of people dead at Ras Kamboni in the far south of Somalia. It was coupled with a second raid 155 kilometres further north.
One of the presumed targets of those raids was Al-Qaeda's chief in east Africa Fazul Abdullah Muhammad, who was gunned down earlier this month in a shootout at a roadblock in Mogadishu after he made a wrong turn.
Fazul was believed to be behind the August 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the worst attack by Al-Qaeda until the September 2001 attacks on the United States.
Outgoing CIA chief Leon Panetta, who is poised to become the next US defense secretary, said earlier this month that the Shebab were looking to extend their operations and carry out attacks abroad.
The Shebab still control most of south and central Somalia and roughly half of the capital Mogadishu despite gains in recent months by the African Union AMISOM forces that are propping up the Shebab-opposed transitional government.
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