Mail & Guardian

Somali official: US planes hunting Islamists

12 Jun 2007 13:24 | Abdiqani Hassan

United States aircraft are hunting foreign jihadists in the remote mountains of northern Somalia where American forces launched air strikes earlier this month, a regional official and residents said on Tuesday.

Ibrahim Artan Ismail, security minister in the regional Puntland government, said his administration was working closely with the US military to help target the fighters.

"We are aware US planes are searching for the suspected Islamists," Ismail told a news conference in Bossasso. "As you know, the suspected Islamist fighters are still on the run. Puntland is working closely with the Americans to seize them."

He gave no other details, but residents said suspected US aircraft were often seen in the skies over Puntland these days.

"The planes are terrifying, sometimes they even fly very low. They must be looking for something. This is unusual," said one local, Said Mohamed.

Earlier this month, another Puntland government official said six foreign Islamist fighters, including an American and a Briton, had been killed in gun battles with local forces and US air strikes that rocked the area on June 1.

US officials declined to comment on a CNN report that said the air strikes were targeting a suspect in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 240 people.

The United States also launched air strikes in southern Somalia in January aimed at three top al-Qaeda suspects but killed the suspects' allies instead, US officials have said.

The suspects were believed to be in a group of Islamists who fled the capital, Mogadishu, in January after being routed by the Somali interim government and its Ethiopian military allies.

Washington says six al-Qaeda operatives or associates are in Somalia, including alleged embassy bomber Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, and Abu Talha al-Sudani, accused of orchestrating the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya that killed 15.

Others include Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, hard-line leader of the ousted Somali Islamic Courts Council (SICC), and Adan Hashi Ayro, head of the SICC's feared military wing, the Shabaab.

SICC remnants have been blamed for a wave of guerrilla attacks mostly targeting Ethiopian troops in the capital. -- Reuters

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