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Officials: US drone strike killed British al-Qaida commander in Somalia

A U.S. drone strike killed a British al-Qaida commander fighting alongside insurgents in Somalia, officials said.
/ Source: news services

A U.S. drone strike killed a British al-Qaida official fighting alongside insurgents in Somalia, officials said.

Three missiles fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle hit Bilal al-Berjawi's car on the outskirts of Mogadishu, according to a statement from the insurgent al-Kataib media foundation late Saturday. Berjawi was a Lebanese and British citizen who grew up in West London and fought in Afghanistan before going to Somalia in 2006.

"The martyr received what he wished for and what he went out for, as we consider of him and Allah knows him best, when, in the afternoon today, brother Bilal al-Berjawi was exposed to bombing in an outskirt of Mogadishu from a drone that is believed to be American," the statement said. "He was martyred immediately."

The strike was confirmed by a U.S. official in Washington. The official asked for anonymity because the official is not authorized to speak to the media.

"Good riddance, and (I) hope al-Shabab leadership will come to their senses and cease the hostility in Somalia," said Omar Jamal, the first secretary in the Somali mission to the U.N., in an emailed statement.

Berjawi helped oversee recruitment, training and tactics for al-Shabab, who are fighting the weak U.N.-backed government. He was a close associate of late al-Qaida operative Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who directed the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Berjawi is at least the fourth senior al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab commander killed in as many years. Last year, a Somali soldier shot dead Mohammed at a checkpoint and in 2009, U.S. soldiers killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in a helicopter raid. In 2008, a U.S. airstrike killed reputed al-Qaida commander Aden Hashi Ayro and two dozen civilians.

Most observers say there are several hundred foreign fighters in Somalia, mainly clustered in training camps around the insurgents stronghold of Kismayo. Most of the foreigners are Africans from other nearby nations, but more than 40 Americans have also traveled to Somalia to join the insurgency, according to a report from the House Homeland Security Committee. Around 15 of them have been killed.

Many British citizens have also returned to Somalia and joined the fight on both sides. Berjawi was the second British citizen killed in Somalia in two days; on Friday an official al-Shabab Twitter feed displayed documents belonging to Said Abdi Jaras from London as proof that the Somali government official had been killed by al-Shabab in battle.

Somalia has not had a functioning government for 21 years. Currently the weak U.N.-backed government holds the capital with the support of 9,500 soldiers from Uganda, Djibouti, and Burundi. Other parts of the country not occupied by al-Shabab are held by friendly militias or Kenyan or Ethiopian troops. Both nations sent in troops amid concerns that Somalia's instability will leak over their borders.

Meanwhile, Somali militants firing vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft guns clashed with African Union forces for a second night in Mogadishu, killing at least nine people including women and children, an ambulance official said on Sunday.

African Union (AU) troops launched a new offensive against al Shabaab on Friday, seizing rebel positions just outside the capital for the first time.

The insurgents, however, have launched counter attacks.

On Saturday night they struck a government military checkpoint known as 'Ex-control' in a northwest suburb of the coastal city. Soldiers with the AU's AMISOM force repelled the assault, an AMISOM spokesman said.