Somalia: U.S. Missed Key Suspects

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A United States air strike in Somalia missed its main target of three top al Qaeda suspects but killed up to 10 of their allies, a senior American official said on Thursday.

This means that Mr. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, 32, may not have been killed as had earlier been reported. Others targeted in the Monday strike were a Sudanese, Mr. Abu Talha al-Sudani, and a Kenyan, Mr. Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan.
The strike killed eight to 10 "terrorist targets" but the US was still in pursuit of the three most wanted suspects, the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

This emerged as a team of anti-terror police and intelligence officers were interrogating in Nairobi 10 terrorist suspects arrested at Kiunga on the Kenyan border with Somalia. They include the wives of Fazul and Nabhan, both of whom are wanted over the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.

Fazul and Nabhan's wives and children were caught trying to cross into Kenya from Ras Kamboni, on Somalia's southern tip, long thought by Western and east African intelligence agencies to be the site of a militant training camp.

The US government is offering a Sh360 million ($5 million) reward for the capture of Fazul, indicted in a federal court for his alleged role in the bombings.

Also being held are eight supporters of the Islamic Courts Union arrested at the Liboi border two weeks ago. At the same time, reports indicated that more than 25 Somali MPs who were last week ordered to leave Kenya could jet out for Djibouti on Friday.

The MPs, together with the speaker of the Somali Parliament, Mr. Shariff Hassan, have been in Nairobi for several months after they differed with President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Mohamed Ghedi over the Ethiopian military intervention.

The Kenyan Government ordered out the MPs saying they would not been allowed to stay while they opposed the transitional federal government, which they were part of. The government for the chaotic Horn of Africa country was formed in Nairobi with the support of the United Nations, Kenya and other countries.

On Monday, a US warplane attacked a village in southern Somalia in an attempt to destroy an al Qaeda cell. The US official based in the region, rejected Somali reports that dozens of civilians were killed, saying only militants died. "All I can say--is that it was a targeted strike at al Qaeda connected or affiliated people," he said. "We and the Ethiopians and everyone else want to interdict terrorists."

US ally Ethiopia, which sent its military into Somalia before Christmas to oust Islamists who threatened to overrun the country's interim government, continued air attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday in pursuit of fleeing fighters. The Pentagon denied it had mounted any strikes after Monday. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Wednesday the US strike hit its target. But a Somali security source cast doubt that any al Qaeda members, who had hidden in Somalia for years with the help of hardline Islamists, were killed.

"I think the air strikes have weakened the Islamists. There have been no air strikes today. I don't think the Americans and Ethiopians have killed any wanted terrorists. Most of the dead there are civilians and livestock," the source said.

The US attack on Monday - its first overt military intervention in Somalia since a disastrous peacekeeping mission ended in 1994 - was criticized by the United Nations, many European countries and the Arab League.

In the Somali government's interim capital Baidoa, its only home until Ethiopian and Somali troops last month defeated Islamists who had controlled southern Somalia, parliament debated a plan to impose martial law. Pro-government MPs said they had the required votes, but others said the move would be challenged in debate.

(The East African Standard, Kenya).

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