There are conflicting reports about who exactly died, and how many, in a U.S. drone strike Thursday in Southwest Somalia that targeted members of the al-Qaida-affiliated al Shabaab.
In the chaotic aftermath of the strike, mobile communications were cut off to the area.
One of the dead was initially identified as an alleged mastermind of the Garissa University massacre in Kenya in April that killed 148 people — mostly students. A Kenyan interior ministry spokesperson made this announcement Thursday, according to News24.
Mohamed Mohamud — also known as Dulyadin, Kuno and Gamadhere — is one of the drone-strike victims, News24 reported. He was on Kenya’s wanted list after the massacre, spokesperson Mwenda Njoka said.
However, BBC reported that the Kenyan official withdrew his statement that one of those killed was the mastermind of the Garissa attack.
Njoka tweeted that he was mistaken when he said a “mastermind” of the Garissa attack was among dead, BBC reported.
News24 reported that four senior members of al Shabaab died in the drone strike. BBC says it was two.
Shabaab commanders Ismael Jamhad and Jama Dere died in the attack, a Somali military officer travelling with African Union troops in the area told BBC.
“It was a U.S. drone,” Njoka told AFP, News24 reports. “Kenyan forces usually provide ground support, information and intelligence on such strikes.”
Residents report hearing several loud blasts at dawn in the town of Bardere — one of the few Somali towns still controlled by al Shabaab. The bodies were found later, residents said, according to BBC. Residents said at least two senior commanders were killed.
The drone strike comes a week before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit Kenya.
The U.S. has launched numerous drone strikes against al Shabaab leaders including one in September that killed leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, according to News24.
Tribal elders near Bardere town said at least two missiles struck vehicles believed to be carrying al Shabaab commanders.
“We heard two big explosions and the information we are getting indicates that vehicles were targeted close to a Shabaab military base,” said Abdiwahab Ali, an elder at a village close to the scene.
The mobile phone network in Bardere was cut off immediately after the strike, making it impossible to reach Shabaab commanders for comment, Ndews24 reported.
BBC reporter Moalimu Mohamed in Mogadishu said residents in a village near the town have been contactable.
Ahmed Bare, a Somali military officer in nearby Elwaq town, said that Shabaab commanders have been leaving Bardere ahead of a planned ground assault by Somali troops, according to News24.
Shabaab militants have been driven from most of the key towns in the last four years that they once held. They still control rural areas in the south, BBC reports. African Union and Somali government troops are moving into the area.
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