Rebel Tied to Al-Qaida Killed in Somalia

In Somalia, a U.S. airstrike killed an Islamist rebel leader with reported al-Qaida ties. It was Washington's biggest blow against Islamist extremists in the Horn of Africa nation since early last year.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host.

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

There is news today from one of the less prominent theaters in the Bush administration's war on al-Qaida. A U.S. air strike in Somalia killed the leader of a militia that was recently put on the U.S. terrorism blacklist.

NPR's Michelle Kelemen is following the story.

MICHELLE KELEMEN: A U.S. Central Command spokeswoman, Lieutenant Colonel Cheryl Law, would say little about the latest military action in the horn of Africa.

Lieutenant Colonel CHERYL LAW, (U.S. Central Command): The U.S. Central Command conducted an attack against a known al-Qaida target and militia leader in Somalia on May 1st. The U.S. is committed to the global war on terrorism and the pursuit of terrorists wherever they operate.

KELEMEN: The U.S. has a base in nearby Djibouti, and this was just the latest in a series of targeted attacks against Islamists in Somalia. The al-Shabab militia confirmed that its leader, Aden Hashi Ayro, was killed along with several others. The State Department terrorism report released yesterday describes the al-Shabab as a group of radicalized young men, some of whom have trained in Afghanistan. Just how tied the group is to al-Qaida is an issue of debate. Matt Briden(ph), a Nairobi-based analyst who keeps tabs on Somalia, describes it this way.

Mr. MATT BRIDEN (Analyst): Some of their leaders, including Ayro, had links to al-Qaida in Somalia. There's a handful of foreign al-Qaida figures in Somalia. And Ayro was implicated in the deaths of a number of foreigners, aid workers and journalists, as well as some prominent Somalis.

KELEMEN: That's how Ayro gained notoriety, Briden says. While he says this U.S. attack was a success, the U.S. strategy to go after individuals has been a risky one in Somalia, where Islamist insurgents have been fighting the Ethiopian-backed transitional government. John Prendergast of the Enough Project says similar U.S. air strikes have helped the radical militias like the al-Shabab.

Mr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (Enough Project): With each one of these strikes from the air, the rebound inside Somalia is so negative, of the foreign power, you know, striking at Somalia's sovereignty from afar, that it enables extremist groups to recruit.

KELEMEN: He argues the U.S. should be doing more on the diplomatic front to try to persuade the government to negotiate with the more moderate elements of the Islamist movement. Ken Menkhaus, a former UN adviser on Somalia who teaches at Davidson College, warns the latest U.S. military action could make this more complicated.

Professor KEN MENKHAUS (Davidson College): Shebab and (unintelligible) were not loved in Somalia. Most Somalis feared and dreaded their tactics, but Shebab, because they were posing as the main liberation movement against an Ethiopian occupation, had the support of a lot of Somalis. And so this attack is likely to polarize the opposition, and I personally think it endangers the peace talks.

KELEMEN: A United Nations mediator is trying to bring together Somali factions for talks on May 10th.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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