U.S. aircraft attacked a house in a southern Somali town before dawn Monday, targeting terrorism suspects as an Islamic group with links to al-Qaida appears to be gathering sway again in this lawless African nation.
Residents and police in Dobley said at least eight people, including four children, were seriously injured when the home was destroyed by the raid, which was confirmed by U.S. officials.
The U.S. military has staged several attacks on suspected extremists in Somalia over the past year amid fears the Horn of Africa country could become a haven for terrorists.
“As we have repeatedly said, we will continue to pursue terrorist activities and their operations wherever we may find them,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in Washington.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters that “the action was to go after al-Qaida and al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists,” suggesting it may have been designed to hit more than one person. Like Whitman, Johndroe declined to provide any details.
One U.S. military official said the target was believed to have been staying in a building known to be used regularly by terrorist suspects. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the record.
A radical Islamic movement that ruled much of southern Somalia in 2006 took over Dobley last week, led by senior official Hassan Turki. Turki, who is rarely seen in public, is on U.S. and U.N. lists of suspected terrorists for alleged ties to al-Qaida. His fate after the strike was not known.
People in Dobley, a town about four miles from the Kenyan border, said the sound of explosions shook them awake before dawn Monday.
“When we came out we found our neighbor’s house completely obliterated as if no house existed here,” Fatuma Abdullahi told The Associated Press. “We are taking shelter under trees. Three planes were flying over our heads.”
The Islamic movement, the Council of Islamic Courts, seized control of much of southern Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu, in 2006. But in early 2007, troops loyal to the U.N.-backed interim Somali government and the allied Ethiopian army defeated the Islamic group.
The Islamic council now appears to be re-emerging.
On Monday, fighters linked to the group overran Bur Haqaba, a hilltop town about 35 miles from the provincial capital of Baidoa in the south. The group released prisoners from jail and killed a police chief before retreating, witnesses said.
Last month, Islamic fighters briefly took over Dinsor in southern Somalia, killing nine soldiers, police said.
The United States has repeatedly accused the Islamic group of harboring international terrorists linked to al-Qaida and allegedly responsible for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
U.S. worries about possible new terror hub
America has been concerned Somalia could become a breeding ground for terrorist groups, particularly after the Islamic militants briefly gained control of the south and Osama bin Laden declared his support for them.
The U.S. sent a small number of special operations troops to help the Ethiopian force that drove the Islamic movement into hiding, and a Navy warship shelled suspected al-Qaida targets. U.S. warplanes staged at least two airstrikes in January 2007 in an attempt to kill suspected al-Qaida members, Pentagon officials have said.
The U.S. Navy still patrols Somalia’s 1,880-mile coast, which is the longest in Africa. Somalia is near key shipping routes connecting the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean and piracy is rampant in the waters offshore.
The U.S. has avoided sustained military action in Somalia since it led a U.N. force that intervened in the early 1990s in an effort to fight famine. That mission led to clashes between U.N. forces and Somali warlords, including a battle in Mogadishu that killed 18 American soldiers.
Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, then turned on each other. The current government was formed with U.N. help in 2004, but it has struggled to assert any real control.