A senior al-shabab commander has made a public appearance to deny claims that he and another group leader were killed in US air strikes last week at a training camp in southern Somalia. Washington said on Monday it had carried out several strikes in Somalia’s Hiiraan region, in which it claimed more than 150 of the al-Qaeda-linked group’s fighters had been killed.
Somali officials said later on Monday that five al-Shabab commanders had been killed in Saturday’s attack, including Mohamed Mire, the group’s Hiiraan governor, and Yusuf Ali Ugas, al-Shabab’s former Hiiraan chief. But Mire appeared on Thursday in the village of Buqa Qabe – in the same province the air strikes took place – to dismiss the claims.
“It is all lies. They said I was among those killed. But I’m here and doing well as you can see,” he told a crowd that had gathered to see the public execution of a man the group accused of being a Somali government soldier. Al-Shabab, which is fighting Somalia’s internationally recognised government, has recently attacked and overrun military bases belonging to the African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM.
The US air strikes occurred at 14:00 GMT on Saturday at a camp about 130km from Belidogle airport in the Lower Shabelle region – a major base for AMISOM troops. American soldiers are also present at the Belidogle base. The al-Shabab fighters were training for a large scale attack and posed an imminent threat to US and African Union forces in Somalia, according to the Pentagon.