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Ethiopian premier says U.S. targeted 20 terrorists

January 11, 2007|From the Associated Press

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA — Ethiopia's prime minister said Wednesday that the U.S. military targeted 20 high-level members of an Islamic movement linked to Al Qaeda in an airstrike earlier this week in southern Somalia.

The air assault has been criticized internationally, with the African Union, European Union and United Nations among those expressing concern. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair told lawmakers that it was right to stand up to extremists who were using violence to "get their way" in Somalia.

Somalian lawmaker Abdulrashid Hidig said the U.S. launched a new airstrike Wednesday around Ras Kamboni, a rugged coastal area near the Kenyan border.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told reporters in his country's capital, Addis Ababa, that eight suspected terrorists were killed in the first airstrike, five were wounded and taken into custody by Ethiopian forces, and seven escaped.

Meles said that most of the victims were Somalis but that the identities would not be confirmed until DNA testing was completed.

In Washington, an intelligence official said the U.S. killed five to 10 people in the first attack.

A Somalian lawmaker said 31 civilians died Tuesday when helicopter gunships attacked suspected Al Qaeda fighters in the south. A U.S. military official said Tuesday's strike was probably carried out by Ethiopia because the aircraft were identified as Russian-made Hind helicopter gunships similar to those used by the Ethiopian military.

The chief of staff for the Somalian president said a senior Al Qaeda figure was killed in the first airstrike. Abdirizak Hassan said Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who allegedly planned the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, was believed to have been killed.

In Washington, U.S. officials said they had no reason to believe that Mohammed died.

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