A missile strike killed four al-Qaeda allied al-Shabaab rebels in war-torn southern Somalia, officials and witnesses said yesterday, as the extremists are squeezed on three fronts by regional forces.
“An Al-Qaeda commander was targeted in Lower Shabelle early on Friday morning, a missile struck and destroyed his vehicle, killing him and several colleagues,” a Somalian government official said on condition of anonymity.
The missile strike 60km south of the Somalian capital Mogadishu — an area known as K60 — was confirmed by local residents.
Residents said an aircraft fired a missile at a Land Cruiser with four passengers, reportedly including foreigners fighting with al-Shabaab.
Britain’s security think tank, the Royal United Services Institution, estimates the total number of foreign fighters within al-Shabaab to be about 200.
Somalian Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said on Wednesday he would welcome Somalia’s international allies to launch air strikes against al-Shabaab, who have been battling to topple his weak Western-backed government.
He called al-Shabaab a “global enemy, not only a Somali enemy.”
The strike comes a day after international powers meeting in London pledged to boost efforts against instability in Somalia and vowed action against anyone obstructing the country’s peace process.
“There was a missile strike near K60 this morning, the missile targeted a vehicle belonging to al-Shabaab,” said Mohamed Ali, a resident in a nearby village. “We are not sure who exactly was the target, but four people apparently died and the vehicle was destroyed.”
There were conflicting reports about the nationalities of those killed in the strike and it was not immediately possible to establish their identities.
“We heard a very loud explosion and people are saying the target was a vehicle of al-Shabaab,” said Ahmed Moalim, another resident.
The Kenyan military, which has carried out air raids against al-Shabaab in southern Somalia, said it was not behind the missile strike.
“That air strike is not from our end,” said Colonel Cyrus Oguna, a Kenyan army spokesman.
In October, the US acknowledged flying drones out of Ethiopia under a counterterrorism campaign in the Horn of Africa, but said the aircraft were unarmed and not carrying out raids.
Last month, hard-line al-Shabaab insurgents said a missile fired from a drone killed a fighter of Lebanese origin, about 13km south of Mogadishu.
The rebels on Wednesday lost control of their strategic base of Baidoa after truckloads of Ethiopian soldiers and pro-government Somalian forces seized the town, the second major loss for the rebels in six months.
Baidoa was one of al-Shabaab’s main bases and its capture leaves the group’s fighters in central Somalia increasingly isolated, with African Union troops also chasing them out of the capital Mogadishu.
Al-Shabaab, thought to number no more than 5,000 gunmen, are close to collapse, with reports that foreign fighters are fleeing to Yemen, the commander of the 10,000-strong African Union force in Somalia said on Thursday.
“In the last few days, close to 300 people, mainly foreign fighters, are streaming out of Somalia taking the direction of Yemen — these are signs of defeat,” Ugandan Major General Fred Mugisha said.