Somali rebels slam U.S. killing of al Qaeda suspect
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.
Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, 28, was also accused of involvement in a simultaneous, but botched, missile attack on a Israeli airliner packed with tourists as it left nearby Mombasa.
Several senior Somali government sources said he had been killed along with four other foreign members of al Shabaab, which Washington describes as al Qaeda's proxy in Somalia.
The rebel group responded angrily to his death.
"Al Shabaab will continue targeting Western countries, especially America ... we are killing them and they are hunting us," an al Shabaab spokesman, Sheikh Bare Mohamed Farah Khoje, told Reuters by telephone from the southern region of Gedo.
"We wish we could eradicate them all. We will never forget our brothers who were targeted illegally by the United States."
The attack marked an apparent change in tactics for the U.S. military, which has previously targeted wanted militants in Somalia using missiles, as opposed to helicopter-borne troops.
Western security agencies say the failed Horn of Africa state has become a safe haven for militants, including foreigners, who use it to plot attacks in the region and beyond.
REBEL FOES HAIL RAID
A moderate Somali militia that has been battling al Shabaab praised the U.S. raid and called late on Monday for more strikes to wipe out foreign jihadists hiding out in Somalia.
"We are very pleased with the helicopters that killed the foreign al Shabaab fighters," Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yussuf, the spokesman for Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca, told Reuters.
"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."
Ahlu Sunna has fought al Shabaab for months across Somalia's central and southern regions. It is allied with the U.N.-backed government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, which controls just parts of the central region and some of Mogadishu.
Nahban was killed near Roobow village in Barawe District, 250 km (150 miles) south of the capital.
A U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. special forces aboard two helicopters that flew from a U.S. Navy ship opened fired on a vehicle that they believed contained Nabhan. They then took the body into custody, the official said, and were confident it was Nabhan.
The U.S. military has launched several airstrikes inside Somalia in the past against individuals blamed for the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
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.
Source: Reuters, Sept 15, 2009