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U.S. airstrike targeted 20 senior militants

Published January 11, 2007


MOGADISHU, Somalia - Ethiopia's prime minister said Wednesday the U.S. military targeted 20 high-level members of an Islamic movement linked to al-Qaida in an airstrike this week in southern Somalia, attacking quickly before the Islamists could escape.

Abdirizak Hassan, chief of staff for the Somali president, said that a senior al-Qaida figure was killed in Monday's airstrike, although U.S. officials did not confirm it.

The al-Qaida suspect was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who allegedly planned the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Hassan said, citing a U.S. intelligence report given to Somali officials.

If confirmed, it would mean the end of an eight-year hunt for one of the FBI's most-wanted terrorists. Fazul was believed to have been harbored by the Somali Islamic movement that challenged the Ethiopian-backed government for power.

In Washington, U.S. government officials said they had no reason to believe that Fazul had been killed. Fazul, 32, joined al-Qaida in Afghanistan and trained with Osama bin Laden, according to FBI documents. The United States put a $5-million bounty on his head for allegedly planning the embassy bombings, which killed 225 people.

The air assault has been criticized internationally, with the African Union, European Union and United Nations among those expressing concern. Support, however, came from British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

A Somali lawmaker said 31 civilians died Tuesday when helicopter gunships attacked suspected al-Qaida fighters in the south. The U.S. military official said Tuesday's strike was probably carried out by Ethiopia since the aircraft were identified as Russian-made Hind helicopter gunships like those used by the Ethiopian military.



[Last modified January 11, 2007, 01:08:36]

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