Top Shebab intelligence official killed in US air strike: Somalia

MOGADISHU (AFP) - A top intelligence official with Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-affliated Shebab rebels was killed in a US air strike on Monday, Somalia’s government said.

“In a joint operation last night by the Somali national security and the United States, Al-Shebab intelligence chief Abdishakur, also known as Tahlil, who replaced the recently arrested former chief, was eliminated,” Somalia’s National Security Agency said in a statement Tuesday.

“Two other Shebab members also died in the attack,” it said, adding the air strike took place near the town of Saacow, 320km west of the capital Mogadishu and in the Middle Juba region.

Last week, officials announced that Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi, identified as a Shebab intelligence chief who was the subject of a US$3 million bounty as part of the US State Department “Rewards for Justice” programme, had given himself up to government troops and was under arrest.

He was also said to have been close to the Shebab’s previous leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed by a US air strike in September.

The Shebab, however, said Zakariya had left the movement more than a year ago, before Godane’s death and before Ahmad Umar Abu Ubaidah was appointed as the new leader.

The question of who is in charge of the Shebab’s feared intelligence wing, known as Amniyat, remains unclear.

A militant called Mahad Mohamed Ali, also known as Karate, as also been identified by intelligence sources as Amniyat chief and had even been tipped as a potential successor to Godane.

The Shebab emerged from the Islamic Courts Union that controlled Mogadishu in 2006 before being pushed out by Ethiopian forces.

The militants were finally driven from their fixed positions in Mogadishu in 2011, and have lost several strongholds in the south and centre of the country in a recent offensive by the AU’s Amisom force.

The group, however, still control vast rural areas from where they launch regular attacks against Amisom troops and the country’s internationally-backed government.