MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A U.S. drone strike killed an al-Qaida official of Lebanese origin fighting alongside insurgents in Somalia, officials said.
Three missiles fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle hit Bilal al-Berjawi's car on the outskirts of Mogadishu, according to a statement from the insurgent al-Kataib media foundation late Saturday.
Al-Shabab said that Berjawi was a Lebanese and British citizen who grew up in West London and fought in Afghanistan before going to Somalia in 2006. But the British government said Sunday he is not a citizen, although they could not confirm whether he had spent time in Britain. A spokeswoman from Britain's foreign office spoke anonymously in line with departmental policy.
"The martyr received what he wished for and what he went out for, as we consider of him and Allah knows him best, when, in the afternoon today, brother Bilal al-Berjawi was exposed to bombing in an outskirt of Mogadishu from a drone that is believed to be American," the statement said. "He was martyred immediately."
The strike was confirmed by a U.S. official in Washington. The official asked for anonymity because the official is not authorized to speak to the media.
"Good riddance, and (I) hope al-Shabab leadership will come to their senses and cease the hostility in Somalia," said Omar Jamal, the first secretary in the Somali mission to the U.N., in an emailed statement.
Berjawi helped oversee recruitment, training and tactics for al-Shabab, who are fighting the weak U.N.-backed government. He was a close associate of late al-Qaida operative Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who directed the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Berjawi is at least the fourth senior al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab commander killed in as many years. Last year, a Somali soldier shot dead Mohammed at a checkpoint and in 2009, U.S. soldiers killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in a helicopter raid. In 2008, a U.S. airstrike killed reputed al-Qaida commander Aden Hashi Ayro and two dozen civilians.
Most observers say there are several hundred foreign fighters in Somalia, mainly clustered in training camps around the insurgents stronghold of Kismayo. Most of the foreigners are Africans from other nearby nations, but more than 40 Americans have also traveled to Somalia to join the insurgency, according to a report from the House Homeland Security Committee. Around 15 of them have been killed.
Somalia has not had a functioning government for 21 years. Currently the weak U.N.-backed government holds the capital with the support of 9,500 soldiers from Uganda, Djibouti, and Burundi. Other parts of the country not occupied by al-Shabab are held by friendly militias or Kenyan or Ethiopian troops. Both nations sent in troops amid concerns that Somalia's instability will leak over their borders.
Houreld reported from Nairobi, Kenya. AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier in Washington, D.C. and Raphael G. Satter in London also contributed to this report.
(This version corrects that Berjawi is of Lebanese origin and not a British citizen.)