Strike in Somalia Said to Kill Mastermind of Attacks on Americans and Kenyans

A senior leader of the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab, who was accused of planning multiple attacks that killed 148 Kenyans in a university town and three Americans on a military base, was killed in a U.S. military drone strike last Sunday, according to Somali and American officials.

Maalim Ayman was killed on Dec. 17 by a U.S. Special Operations drone strike in a joint operation with the Somali national army, the officials said. He is believed to be responsible for the assault on Jan. 5, 2020 on a military base in Manda Bay, Kenya, that killed two U.S. contractor pilots and a U.S. soldier. A third U.S. contractor and two other U.S. service members were injured. Six U.S. aircraft were destroyed in the attack.

Somalia, a strategic nation located in the Horn of Africa, has been fending off attacks since 2006 by the extremist group al-Shabab, with the assistance of forces from Kenya, the United States and the African Union. Mr. Ayman was believed to be the mastermind of a unit that launched attacks inside Kenya, Somalia’s southern neighbor.

Officially, the U.S. Africa Command, while confirming the strike in Somalia, did not identify the target, pending further analysis, the command said in a statement. But a U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters, said the strike successfully targeted Mr. Ayman, as did a Somali cabinet member. .

Somalia’s current government has made defeating the terrorist group a cornerstone of its policy, with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud vowing to defeat the group militarily and financially. And even though they have lost territory and fighters, the Shabab have proven to be resilient, and continue to carry out deadly attacks in hotels, restaurants and ministries that have left hundreds dead.

The strike on Mr. Ayman took place near Jilib, a Shabab-controlled stronghold in southern Somalia, the U.S. military official said.

Somalia’s information minister, Daud Aweis, who also confirmed Mr. Ayman’s killing, said that Mr. Ayman was the sole target of the strike. He declined to disclose further information on how Mr. Ayman was killed or how officials confirmed his identity.

“It took us three days to finish the process and are confirming that he is no more,” Mr. Aweis said in a phone interview.

Earlier this year, the State Department Reward for Justice program had offered up to $10 million for information leading to Mr. Ayman’s arrest or conviction.

By targeting Mr. Ayman, the Somali government was “sending a message because we believe anyone who is responsible for the merciless acts of violence against our people has to be punished or brought to justice,” said Mr. Aweis, the information minister. “We recognized him as an obstacle to Somalia’s objective of having cohesion and harmony both within Somalia and with its neighbors.”

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