, MOGADISHU, Feb 24 – A missile strike killed four Al-Qaeda allied Shabaab rebels in war-torn southern Somalia, officials and witnesses said on Friday.
“An Al-Qaeda commander was targeted in Lower Shabelle early on Friday morning, a missile struck and destroyed his vehicle, killing him and several colleagues,” said a Somali government official on condition of anonymity.
The missile strike 60 kilometres south of the Somali capital Mogadishu – an area known as K60 – was confirmed by local residents.
Residents said an aircraft fired a missile at a Land Cruiser with four passengers, reportedly including foreigners fighting with the Shabaab.
Britain’s security think tank, the Royal United Services Institution, estimates the total number of foreign fighters within the Shabaab to be around 200.
“There was a missile strike near K60 this morning, the missile targeted a vehicle belonging to Al- Shabaab,” said Mohamed Ali, a resident in a nearby village.
“We are not sure who exactly was the target but four people apparently died and the vehicle was destroyed.”
“We heard a very loud explosion, and people are saying the target was a vehicle of the Al- Shabaab,” said Ahmed Moalim, another resident.
In October, the United States acknowledged flying drones out of Ethiopia under a counter-terrorism campaign in the Horn of Africa but said the aircraft were unarmed and not carrying out raids.
Last month the hardline Shabaab insurgents said a missile fired from a drone killed a British-Lebanese fighter, about 13 kilometres (eight miles) south of Mogadishu.
The strike comes a day after international powers meeting in London pledged renewed action against instability in Somalia and vowed action against anyone obstructing the country’s peace process.
Two days ago, the rebels lost control of the strategic base of Baidoa after truckloads of Ethiopian soldiers and pro-government Somali forces seized the town, the second major loss for the rebels in six months.
Baidoa was one of the Shabaab’s main bases and its capture leaves the group’s fighters in central Somalia increasingly isolated, with AU troops also chasing them out of the capital Mogadishu.
Although the insurgents still control large parts of southern Somalia, they face a land and air offensive by Kenyan forces there.