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Military strike in Somalia targeted Al-Shabaab leader, U.S. officials say

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
January 28, 2014 -- Updated 1948 GMT (0348 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Officials: Strike in Somalia targeted Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane
  • The Pentagon has not confirmed whether Godane was killed
  • An October U.S. raid to capture an Al-Shabaab leader was aborted

(CNN) -- A U.S. military strike in southern Somalia Sunday was targeting Ahmed Abdi Godane, the leader of Al-Shabaab, the Somali-based group with ties to al Qaeda, according to three US officials.

A drone operated by the U.S. Defense Department fired a Hellfire missile at a vehicle killing those inside, the officials said. But as of Tuesday, the Pentagon was unable to confirm whether Godane was killed, although he was the intended target.

The military was authorized to try to kill Godane because of current intelligence indicating he posed an "imminent threat" against U.S. interests in the region, one official said.

"We have to be able to prove he was in the process of planning additional attacks," the official said. The official would not elaborate on what the intelligence might be.

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The officials confirmed this information in response to questioning from CNN, but declined to speak on the record because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Officially, the Pentagon has only described the target of Sunday's strike as a "senior leader" affiliated with al Qaeda and Al-Shabaab.

Godane has been a driving force behind Al-Shabaab declaring its affiliation to al Qaeda and has pressed for the group to launch attacks beyond Somalia.

In recent years, U.S. officials had considered Al-Shabaab to be diminished in strength, but after the attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya last year, officials have worried the group has demonstrated a renewed capability.

The U.S. still sees the limited Western presence in Somalia as a potential target for Al-Shabaab, but the concerns also focus on U.S. targets throughout the Horn of Africa, the official said.

U.S. officials are waiting for DNA evidence as well as intelligence gathered from local Somalis on the ground before they can confirm Godane was in the vehicle and killed by the drone strike.

Somali officials have said the man killed was Sahal Iskudhuq, an Al-Shabaab operative who was close to Godane and involved in planning attacks over the years. The latest strike comes after a failed raid last year by U.S. Navy SEALS aiming to capture a man known as Ikrimah, who U.S. officials said was a senior militant with ties to al Qaeda and Al-Shabaab.

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