The United States thinks an air strike Jan. 8 in southern Somalia may have wounded an al Qaeda-trained leader of the most violent militia that helped seize the capital, Mogadishu, earlier this year.
Defenses sources said Aden Hashi Ayro, who led the Hizbul Shabaab, a violent army of young Islamists within the Somalian Islamic Courts Union, “is thought to have been wounded.” The Islamic Courts Union captured the capital last year, but a combined Ethiopian-Somalian government force routed the Islamists last month and regained Mogadishu.
The sources said the United States obtained bloody clothes at the scene where five to 10 al Qaeda-linked suspects were killed.
The sources declined to say how the clothing was obtained, but one source said U.S. commandos were operating in Somalia.
Ayro is no small fish. He was trained in one of Osama bin Laden’s terror camps in Afghanistan before the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to topple the hard-line Taliban regime. He operated with al Qaeda members in Somalia and was thought to have associated with the three main targets of Monday’s attack: Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan and Abu Taha al-Sudani.
Mohammed and Nabhan are wanted by the United States on suspicion of planning and carrying out the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. AlSudani is an explosives specialist suspected of ties to al Qaeda.
Ayro was quickly moving up the chain of command among Islamists in Somalia. The United States viewed him as perhaps the future leader of al Qaeda in the region, a post held by Mohammed.
A U.S. official in Nairobi told reporters Jan. 11 that none of the top three targets was killed.