A U.S. drone strike in Somalia killed two terrorists of the al Qaeda-affiliated group al Shabaab, including a leader of the group, a U.S. official said.
The drone attack took place Monday near the southern town of Jilib when an armed unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with missiles fired on a vehicle in the town, said the official who is knowledgeable of the raid but who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official provided no further details but confirmed the attack following news reports from Mogadishu that quoted eyewitnesses in Jilib, located about 75 miles north of the town of Kismayo, as saying Al Shabaab fighters claimed the bodies of the two men after the attack.
Residents reported that the two men were riding in a Suzuki vehicle and, after an explosion, a drone was seen leaving the area. A large number of al Shabaab fighters then descended on the area.
An al Shabaab commander who had been linked to past suicide bombing attacks reportedly was one of the two men killed.
The drone strike was first reported on Twitter by freelance reporter @Daudoo also known as “Live from Mogadishu."
The Somalia drone strike is an indication that U.S. remotely piloted attacks against terrorists are continuing. President Barack Obama in a speech in May indicated that the use of drone strikes, which have been criticized for causing civilian casualties, could be constrained.
The drone strike followed an unsuccessful U.S. special operations raid Oct. 5 to snatch a senior al Qaeda leader in the Somalian coastal town of Baraawe.
The Pentagon later disclosed that the target of the early October raid was a top al Shabaab terrorist commander identified as Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, known as “Ikrima,” a Somali-born Kenyan.
Al Shabaab carried out the deadly armed assault on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in September that killed 67 people.
“Ikrima is closely associated with now-deceased al Qaeda operatives Harun Fazul and Saleh Nabhan, who played roles in the 1998 bombing of the United States embassy in Nairobi, Kenya and in the 2002 attacks on a hotel and airline in Mombasa, Kenya that resulted in the deaths of Kenyan and Israeli citizens, including children,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in a statement after the early October raid.
“While the operation did not result in Ikrima’s capture, U.S. military personnel conducted the operation with unparalleled precision and demonstrated that the United States can put direct pressure on al Shabaab leadership at any time of our choosing,” Little said.