, NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 21 – Kenyan fighter jets pounded rebel-held southern Somalia in a strike that Nairobi said Wednesday had killed Al Qaeda linked fighters but witnesses claimed caused several civilian deaths.
Military jets targeted several locations late Tuesday in Hosingow in the Lower Juba region, close to the Kenyan border, local elders said.
“There were at least three military planes that dropped bombs on Hosingow, and one hit a house killing civilians”, said Abdi Isak, a witness.
“There were 11 people, most of them civilians, killed in the raid.”
“One of the bombs struck near a street where people were running their businesses — they dropped bombs and went away without knowing who they have killed,” Ahmed Yusuf, another witness told AFP.
“More than ten have died and 13 others are injured, some of them seriously,” he added.
The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) Wednesday claimed responsibility for the raid, saying it believed it had killed a senior Shebab commander it did not name.
“KDF carried out two air raids on an Al Shabaab camp close to the Kenyan border,”it said in a statment.
“It is believed a senior Al Shabaab commander, former Al Shabaab administrator and over 17 fighters died. The administrator’s family is likely to have been residing with the fighters,” it added.
Kenya has launched several bombing raids in the region since begining an offensive against the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels two months ago.
“We call on all peace-loving Somalis not to interact with members of Al-Shabaab as KDF intensifies the air attacks in South-Central Somalia,” it added.
The hardline insurgents, who control large parts of southern Somalia but are facing increasing pressure from regional armies and government forces, condemned the airstrikes.
“The cowardly enemy has targeted civilians in Hosingow and killed more than 10 innocent civilians after their military jets bombed houses,” regional Shabaab official Sheikh Abukar Ali said.
“They have targeted civilian areas and committed crimes, but we will not let them go with the innocent blood of our people they have spilt… They will regret this, the mujahideen fighters will avenge the attack,” he added.
The Horn of Africa country has been ravaged by a nearly uninterrupted civil war since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre sparked vicious bloodletting by rival militias fighting for power.
Kenyan military officials vowed last week to carry out further air strikes deeper into rebel-held territory, claiming to have already killed several Shabaab fighters in earlier raids.