US air strike kills telecom worker in Somalia

US Africa Command denies any Somali civilians killed and says key al-Shabab planner and his wife died in an attack.

Somalian al-Shabab fighters
Al-Shabab fighters sit on a truck as they patrol in the capital Mogadishu in this 2009 file photo [Mohamed Sheikh Nor/AP]

An American air strike killed a worker for a telecom company in Somalia, officials said, while the US military said an al-Shabab commander and his wife died in an attack.

Mohamud Haji Sirad, 55, a local manager of Hormuud, Somalia’s largest telecom company, was killed when two missiles struck his farm on the outskirts of the rebel-held town of Jilib on Monday, Somali officials said.

Both the US Africa Command and Somalia’s government said the air strike killed a member of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group. But officials at Hormuud said the attack killed their local manager in Jilib.

A Somali intelligence official said the man targeted appeared to have been on the security radar but he declined to confirm whether officials were aware he was a telecom worker. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Somali authorities have long accused some businessmen of having ties with al-Shabab, which extorts significant amounts of money from businesses to finance its activities in the Horn of Africa nation.

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Air strikes

A US Africa Command statement said, “We currently assess no civilians were injured or killed as a result of this air strike”, which was carried out in coordination with Somalia’s government.

In a separate statement, the US Africa Command said an air strike it carried out Saturday killed a senior al-Shabab leader associated with the group’s deadly attack on January 5 on a military airstrip in Kenya, which killed a US service member and two US contractors and destroyed several American aircraft.

The January 5 attack occurred at the Manda Bay military base in Kenya used by both US and Kenyan forces. After that attack, the US military deployed additional forces to Kenya, which borders Somalia.

“Post-strike assessments confirm the two terrorists killed in the February 22 precision air strikes were an individual associated with the attack on Manda Bay and his wife, who was also a known al-Shabab member,” it said. The wife “was a witting and active member” of the group, it added.

The man organised and directed operations in the border region between Kenya and Somalia, it said.

‘Evil and remorseless’

US Army General Stephen Townsend, commander of the US Africa Command, said in a statement since January 5 the military has pursued those responsible.

“This strike demonstrates that we will continue to relentlessly pursue those responsible for Manda Bay and those wishing to do harm to Americans and our African partners,” he said.

Townsend added al-Shabab is “an evil and remorseless enemy of peace, stability, and freedom in East Africa and threatens the very way of life of people there, as well as Americans and US interests in the region and abroad”.

The United States has carried out a growing number of air strikes against al-Shabab during President Donald Trump’s administration. Some have been followed by allegations of civilians killed.

The US has said it carried out 63 air strikes in Somalia last year, and at least a dozen this year against al-Shabab.

US Africa Command says only two civilians, a woman and a child, have been killed in US air strikes targeting al-Shabab since 2007, despite claims by a human rights group that dozens of non-combatants may have died.

The armed group has fought for more than a decade to overthrow the Somali government and impose strict Islamic law in the country.

Source: News Agencies