WASHINGTON – A U.S. drone attacked a vehicle in southern Somalia on Monday and killed a senior member of al-Shabab, the militant group that claimed responsibility for the deadly assault on a shopping mall in Kenya last month, a U.S. official said.
The drone attack is believed to have killed two men riding in the car, including Ibrahim Ali Abdi, a Somali the U.S. official described as an explosives expert who had helped carry out suicide attacks and bombings against a United Nations facility, embassies and other targets in Somalia since 2008.
The drone strike was the first in Somalia since last year and was part of a recent escalation in U.S. operations in the war-wracked country since the mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya.
Early this month, Navy SEALs raided a compound along the coast of Somalia, intending to kill or capture Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a senior al-Shabab figure better known as Ikrima. They were forced to abandon the mission when they came under heavy gunfire.
Abdi “is somebody we have been tracking for a while,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We have been active against al-Shabab for a long time. They are under a lot of pressure.”
The drone attack occurred on a road east of the town of Jilib in southern Somalia.
Abdi is also known by the name Anta Anta, the official said. He is believed to have been involved in 2008 attacks in Somaliland, a semiautonomous region of northern Somalia, including on the presidential palace, the Ethiopian consulate and an office of the United Nations Development Program.
A witness to Monday’s airstrike, Hassan Nur, told Reuters news service that he saw a drone attack a Suzuki vehicle near Jilib.
“I heard a big crash and saw a drone disappearing far into the sky. At least two militants died,” Nur said. “I witnessed a Suzuki car burning.
“Many al-Shabab men came to the scene,” he said. “I could see them carry the remains of two corpses. It was a heavy missile that the drone dropped. Many cars were driving ahead of me, but the drone targeted this Suzuki.”