MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Masked al-Shabab fighters retrieved bits of flesh overnight from a burned-out car that had been hit by a U.S. missile and in which a member of the armed Islamic group's intelligence unit died, a commander in the group said Monday.
Sahal Iskudhuq was killed in Sunday's attack and was with al-Shabab's intelligence unit, helping choose targets for bombings and to plan attacks, a commander in the al-Qaida-linked group told The Associated Press. There was no immediate indication that Iskudhuq had been involved in planning the September attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
Iskudhuq had previously been in charge of kidnappings of foreigners and ransom deals for the al-Qaida-linked insurgent group, said the al-Shabab commander, Abu Mohamed. Iskudhuq was also a trusted friend of the group's spiritual leader and top commander, Ahmed Abdi Godane.
Somali officials said they believe the missile was fired from a drone. The U.S. has carried out drone attacks in Somalia before, though not nearly as frequently as in Pakistan and a few other places. Al-Shabab would "retaliate with a bigger blow and pain against the enemy," Mohamed said.
Some al-Shabab fighters went to the scene of the missile strike in Hawai village and chanted "God is great" as they put the remains in sacks, Mohamed said. They then sped away in pickup trucks to bury the men. Mohamed, who visited the scene, said by phone that Iskudhuq's driver was also killed when a missile hit their car in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, and that the bodies were charred beyond recognition.
Two U.S. military officials confirmed there was a missile strike against a senior al-Shabab leader in Somalia on Sunday. The officials wouldn't identify the target and one of them said U.S. intelligence is still "assessing the effectiveness of the strike."
Somalia's president said the killing is "another blow" to the Islamic rebels who have been pushed back by African Union troops. President Hassan Sheik Mohamud said on Twitter late Sunday that Somalia's government is working with its partners to eliminate the al-Qaida-linked militants from Somalia.
Last week more than 4,000 troops from neighboring Ethiopia officially joined a peacekeeping force under the African Union banner, attracting immediate calls from al-Shabab for the Ethiopians to be resisted. Many Somalis resent Ethiopia's military because of alleged abuses committed during previous operations in Somalia.
Al-Shabab has been in decline in Somalia since being ousted from the capital, Mogadishu, by African Union forces in 2011, and now the group's leaders also are being targeted by missiles fired by U.S. drones that occasionally fly over the Horn of Africa nation.
Last October a U.S. military strike hit a vehicle carrying senior members of al-Shabab, killing its top explosives expert. Earlier that month, U.S. Navy SEALs had raided a coastal Somali town to take down a Kenyan al-Shabab member. The SEALs withdrew before capturing or killing their target — Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, known as Ikrima — who was identified as the lead planner of a plot by al-Shabab to attack Kenya's parliament building and the United Nations office in capital, Nairobi, in 2011 and 2012.
After being ousted from Somalia's capital by African Union forces in 2011, al-Shabab is now mostly active in Somalia's rural regions. It is still able to launch lethal attacks — often involving militants on suicide missions — in Mogadishu as well as across the border.
Neighboring Kenya, which has troops among the African Union force in Somalia, was the scene of an attack in September when gunmen attacked Nairobi's upscale Westgate Mall with guns and grenades, killing at least 67 people.