– by Joseph Cox and Jack Serle, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
A US drone strike hit Somalia, the first in seven months, in an attack aimed at killing al Shabaab leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane.
The attack killed “six al Shabaab officers” but it is not clear if Godane was among them, said Abdullahi Abukar, executive director of the Somali Human Rights Association (SOHRA).
Sohra monitors human rights abuses and records casualties from the ongoing conflict in Lower Shabelle, where the strike hit. It destroyed an encampment and at least one vehicle in an area heavily under al Shabaab control.
A Pentagon spokesman confirmed it was a US military operation, telling reporters: “actionable intelligence led us to that site where we believe [Godane] was” and “we certainly believe that we hit what we were aiming at”. However he would not confirm who, if anyone, had been killed.
The spokesman said drones and conventional aircraft flown by US special forces “destroyed an encampment and a vehicle using several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided missiles”.
An al Shabaab spokesman declined to say whether Godane was among the six militants killed.
An unnamed Somali intelligence source was similarly cautious, telling the Associated Press Godane “might have been killed along with other militants”.
The attack was the sixth confirmed US drone strike reported in Somalia. There have been at least eight other confirmed US operations in the country – including naval bombardments and special forces operations.
Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, originally trained to be an accountantbefore joining Itihad al Islamiya, a now defunct armed group.
After fighting in Afghanistan, he became involved in what would later become al Shabaab becoming its leader in 2007. The US government is offering up to $7m as a reward for information about his whereabouts.
Godane has been targeted at least two other times by US forces, according to figures maintained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Two of these were drone strikes, one in 2011 and another earlier this year.
The US may have tried to capture Godane in October 2013, in a failed amphibious assault on a compound in southern Somalia. However there are several conflicting accounts of this operation, and the true target remains unclear.
The first US operation against Godane was in 2003, according to the Bureau’s data. It was a CIA surveillance operation against several people, including Godane.
Godane was also said to be the target of a January 2014 Kenyan air strike that killed 57 alleged al Shabaab militants.