Mogadishu, Somalia – A senior al-Shabab commander has made a public appearance to deny claims that he and another group leader were killed in US air strikes last week at a training camp in southern Somalia.
Washington said on Monday it had carried out several strikes in Somalia’s Hiiraan region, in which it claimed more than 150 of the al-Qaeda-linked group’s fighters had been killed.
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Somali officials said later on Monday that five al-Shabab commanders had been killed in Saturday’s attack, including Mohamed Mire, the group’s Hiiraan governor, and Yusuf Ali Ugas, al-Shabab’s former Hiiraan chief.
But Mire appeared on Thursday in the village of Buqa Qabe – in the same province the air strikes took place – to dismiss the claims.
“It is all lies. They said I was among those killed. But I’m here and doing well as you can see,” he told a crowd that had gathered to see the public execution of a man the group accused of being a Somali government soldier.
Al-Shabab, which is fighting Somalia’s internationally recognised government, has recently attacked and overrun military bases belonging to the African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM.
The US air strikes occurred at 14:00 GMT on Saturday at a camp about 130km from Belidogle airport in the Lower Shabelle region – a major base for AMISOM troops. American soldiers are also present at the Belidogle base.
The al-Shabab fighters were training for a large-scale attack and posed an imminent threat to US and African Union forces in Somalia, according to the Pentagon.
“It is all propaganda. America is losing this war and that is why they now have to resort to guerrilla tactic,” Mire added, in reference to a Wednesday morning raid on the town of Awdhegle – 50km south of the capital Mogadishu – by joint US and Somali special forces.
Somali officials said more than a dozen al-Shabab fighters were killed in the raid which involved two helicopters. Al-Shabab said only one of its fighters was killed.
There was no way of independently verifying both claims.