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U.S. kills Somali with links to al Qaeda, officials say

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  • NEW: Officials: Islamic militant leader Adan Hashi Ayrow killed by U.S. strike
  • Ayrow's Al-Shaabab group reportedly has close ties to al Qaeda
  • Strike hit house and killed at least 10, a town elder says
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(CNN) -- A U.S. missile strike Thursday killed a Somali Islamic militant leader with ties to al Qaeda and several other senior leaders of his group, Al-Shaabab, local officials said.


This photo of Adan Hashi Ayrow was posted Thursday on a Web site that supports Somali insurgents.

U.S. officials confirmed that an American missile targeted Adan Hashi Ayrow in the pre-dawn attack in central Somalia but could not confirm that he was killed.

He had worked with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a former leader of the Islamic Courts Union, U.S. officials said. The militant group is believed to have harbored those responsible for the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Ayrow, a slight man in his 30s, was the target of an American airstrike last year that U.S. officials believe wounded the Al-Shaabab military leader.

In a rare statement after the January 2007 attack, the camera-shy Ayrow lashed out at American and Ethiopian leaders for ordering the strike.

"For two weeks, U.S. and Ethiopia were saying that they killed the poor Adan Ayrow," he said in an audio clip released to Somali media.

"What crimes did I commit against them? Have I been to the United States or Ethiopia? Whatever [the Americans] do and whatever missiles they fire at me, I am confident that I will only die my day when God judges me."

Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and sparked brutal clan infighting. The current transitional government is trying to maintain control of the capital with the help of the better-equipped Ethiopian forces.

But the presence of the Ethiopians has united various Islamic militant groups in Somalia, including Al-Shaabab, who are trying to oust the Ethiopian forces and gain control of Mogadishu.

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Local sources said the American missile hit a house in the town of Dhusomareb about 3 a.m. Thursday (8 p.m. ET Wednesday), during a meeting of Al-Shaabab commanders.

Town elder Elmi Arap said the house was demolished. He said that 10 bodies had been counted but that the death toll could be higher because body parts were strewn about the rubble. Ayrow was among those killed, he said.

Hours after the attack, Al-Shaabab spokesman Mukhtar Robow held a telephone news conference with journalists from an undisclosed location in Somalia and confirmed that Ayrow and another high-ranking militia member were killed.

U.S. officials said the missile was launched from a Navy submarine or a ship in the region.

The U.S. classified Al-Shaabab as a terrorist group linked to al Qaeda in March.

"Al-Shaabab is a violent and brutal extremist group with a number of individuals affiliated with al Qaeda," according to the State Department Web site. "Many of its senior leaders are believed to have trained and fought with al Qaeda in Afghanistan."

Ayrow had been tracked in Somalia with the help of U.S. agents there, according to U.S. officials.

Western intelligence agencies believe that he became associated with al Qaeda during a trip to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s for explosives training.

Later, officials said, he started working with Aweys, whose Islamic Courts Union seized control of Somalia and its capital, Mogadishu, in 2006.

The organization was deposed in December of that year, after Ethiopia's military invasion. Aweys, a prominent Islamist, is himself on a United Nations list of al Qaeda associates.

The Islamists have denied that they are harboring suspects in the U.S. bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. See a map of terrorist havens »

The Islamic Courts Union was linked to the murders of several aid workers, including Annalena Tonelli, a 60-year-old Italian nurse who was shot to death in 2003 at the tuberculosis hospital she founded in Borama, in northwestern Somaliland, according to the United Nations.

As the Islamic Courts Union grew in strength, taking on the warlords that controlled Mogadishu, so did Ayrow's group.

Soon after the Islamists seized the capital in 2006, a cargo plane arrived at the newly reopened airport carrying weapons, some of which may have gone to Ayrow and his Al-Shaabab fighters, according to a U.N. report.

A Somali journalist described his meeting with Ayrow at the Mogadishu airport as it was being reopened two years ago.

"When I entered into the car, my colleague introduced me to the driver, who, to my surprise and shock, was Adan Hashi Ayrow," according to the journalist, who did not want to be named for security reasons.

"He greeted me by raising his eyebrow, and I did the same. He was so quiet ... and looked so vigilant with the movements in his eyes. I noticed that he was wearing a handgun on his waist."

The journalist said Ayrow did not talk much.

"[My colleague and I] rode in the car 15 minutes, and [Ayrow] said very few words like 'I don't like cameras' and 'The warlords were so funny: They didn't want to open this airport while they were controlling the city.' "


Since the Ethiopian invasion ousted the Islamic Courts Union leaders, Ayrow and other Islamist militants have been hiding out.

Al-Shaabab fighters are waging fierce battles across Somalia, seizing control of some small towns and battling for control of Mogadishu in recent days. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Barbara Starr and Tim Lister contributed to this report.

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