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10 slain in U.S. strike, Somalia says

Six were reported to be foreign fighters linked to Al Qaeda. Bombing in Mogadishu kills seven.

June 04, 2007|Edmund Sanders | Times Staff Writer

NAIROBI, KENYA — Six foreign fighters linked to Al Qaeda, including one carrying an American passport, were among those killed in a U.S. missile strike Friday in Somalia's Puntland region, Somalian officials said Sunday.

The fighters are believed to be remnants of the Islamic Courts Union, a group of religious extremists who were driven out of Mogadishu in December by Ethiopian and Somalian troops.

"Al Qaeda-connected forces from southern Somalia have been killed and captured alive," said Hassan Dahir Mohamoud, vice president of Puntland, a semiautonomous region in northern Somalia that has remained relatively stable in recent years.

At least 10 militants were believed to have been killed, but officials said the final tally could be higher. The U.S. military, which has carried out strikes in Somalia with the government's blessing, refused to comment on the attack.

Separately Sunday, a suicide car bomb exploded outside the home of Somalia's prime minister, killing at least seven people, mostly members of government security forces.

In a radio address after the blast, Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi, who has survived at least three previous assassination attempts, blamed militants.

"We can no longer cohabit with these terrorists in Mogadishu," he said. "We have to eliminate them."

Despite the presence of about 1,500 African Union peacekeepers and an undisclosed number of Ethiopian soldiers, Somalia continues to grapple with daily bloodshed, mostly centered in the capital, Mogadishu. The Horn of Africa nation has lacked a functioning central government since 1991, but a transitional administration moved to Mogadishu in January and is attempting to assert its authority.

The government faces stiff challenges from Somalia's powerful clans and a growing insurgency led by Islamist fighters.

The foreign fighters killed in Friday's attack also carried passports from Britain, Sweden, Morocco, Pakistan and Yemen, Somalian officials said.

On Friday night, a U.S. warship fired missiles at targets in the mountains near the port city of Bargal, Somalian officials and witnesses said. Residents reported hearing explosions, but it was unclear whether there were civilian casualties.

A resident who spoke on condition of anonymity said two U.S. soldiers had arrived in Bargal on Thursday, accompanied by Puntland troops, and appeared to be inspecting the coastline.

A day earlier, about three dozen Islamist fighters arrived in Puntland by boat from southern Somalia, apparently on their way to Eritrea, said Gov. Muse Geele of Bari province in Puntland.

U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Eritrea of aiding Islamist fighters in Somalia. Somalian officials said they believed former Islamic Courts leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys was living in Asmara, the Eritrean capital.

Upon arrival in Puntland, the fighters began clashing with local security forces, who eventually sought U.S. help.

"The American airstrike followed a series of attacks targeting the terrorist groups in their hide-outs," said Mohamed Ali Yusuf, Puntland's finance minister. "We want any help from the U.S., without harming innocent people."

The U.S. has conducted at least two other strikes in Somalia in the last six months. The attacks targeted Al Qaeda suspects in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The strikes reportedly killed Islamist fighters, but U.S. officials later said they had failed to kill the bombing suspects.

edmund.sanders@latimes.com

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Special correspondents Mahad Elmi and Lutfi Sheriff Mohammed in Mogadishu contributed to this report.

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