An American drone strike in Somalia has killed the chief of intelligence for the Shabab, the Qaeda affiliate in that country, Somali officials said Tuesday.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Monday that the United States had carried out an airstrike against a senior Shabab leader in the vicinity of Saakow, but American officials declined to identify the leader.
Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency on Tuesday identified the Shabab operative as Abdishakur, also known as Tahliil, and said he was the chief of intelligence and the leader of a unit of the Shabab responsible for suicide attacks.
“With the help of the Somali national security and intelligence agency and its U.S. counterpart, an Al Shabab leader was killed last night,” the security agency said in a statement.
American officials stopped short of publicly seconding that assertion, waiting for other indicators to avoid the possible embarrassment of past airstrikes in which militants who were declared dead popped up very much alive some time later.
After his predecessor was killed in a strike this year, Abdishakur took over as intelligence chief. American officials said a drone fired several Hellfire missiles at a convoy in which the Shabab leader was traveling.
Last week, the Shabab’s former chief of intelligence, Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi, a leader with a $3 million bounty on his head, turned himself in to the Somali authorities, according to The Associated Press. Shabab officials said he left the group over a year ago after a falling out with insurgents loyal to the group’s top leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed in an American airstrike in September.
At that time, President Obama drew a direct link between the killing of Mr. Godane, who turned an obscure local militant group into one of the most fearsome Qaeda affiliates in the world, and Mr. Obama’s plans for the leaders of the Islamic State.
The president vowed to hunt down those leaders “the same way” the United States had found Mr. Godane.
Despite setbacks in the past few years that have driven the Shabab from strongholds in Somali cities like Mogadishu into rural areas, the group has continued a string of lethal attacks.
The Shabab — who once ruled large expanses of Somalia — have been in retreat for months, pushed back by African Union peacekeepers and an increasingly hostile populace and weakened by defections. The airstrike that killed Mr. Godane left the group in further disarray.
But the Shabab remain dangerous, unpredictable and bold, and are known for audacious and chilling attacks. Their fighters routinely target the Somali government and international peacekeepers in Mogadishu.
A Christmas meal at the African Union peacekeeping base in Mogadishu was ambushed Thursday by Islamist gunmen and suicide bombers, including some dressed as Somali soldiers. At least three soldiers, one civilian and five attackers were killed, and three attackers were captured after the gunfight at the Halane base camp near the airport in Mogadishu.
This month, Shabab attackers also seized dozens of Kenyan miners, separated the Christians from the Muslims and executed the Christians, the Kenyan authorities said.
And last year, the Shabab massacred dozens of shoppers at a mall in Nairobi, Kenya.