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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Hunts Al-Qaida, Kills Many in Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- A U.S. warplane hunting al-Qaida suspects killed many people in south Somalia as other airstrikes also hit the remote region where fugitive Islamist fighters are hiding, officials said Tuesday.

In the first known direct U.S. military intervention in Somalia since a failed peacekeeping mission that ended in 1994, an AC-130 plane rained gunfire on the desolate village of Hayo late on Monday, a senior government official said.

"There are so many dead bodies and animals in the village," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

U.S. intelligence believes Abu Talha al-Sudani, named in grand jury testimony against Osama bin Laden as a Sudanese explosives expert, is al-Qaida's east African boss and is hiding among Islamist troops fleeing Ethiopian and Somali forces.

It was not clear whether he was killed in the attack, which the Pentagon declined to confirm or deny.

Somalia's defense and information ministers said other airstrikes took place south of Hayo, near Ras Kamboni and Badmadow at Somalia's southernmost tip near the Kenyan border.

Neither would say whether the United States or Ethiopia, which has jets and helicopters in the area, carried them out, or precisely when they occurred.

"The Islamists are hiding in the thick jungle and it's only airstrikes that eliminate them from there. The strikes have been going on and will continue until no terrorist survives," Information Minister Ali Ahmed Jama "Jangali" said.

"Many have been killed but there are some who are still hiding there."

Hundreds of Islamists have sought refuge in southern Somalia's jungle and bush, where Ethiopian and Somali troops have chased them in a swift offensive that ran them out of their strongholds, including Mogadishu, before the new year.

There was no independent confirmation of the locations of the attacks, nor casualty figures.

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf told reporters in Mogadishu, where he went Monday for the first time since his 2004 election, that he could not confirm the strikes, but said the United States should hunt al-Qaida wherever they are.

"They have a right to take action. We are fighting terrorists, whether they are international terrorists or Somalis. We are not fighting Islam. Somalis are 100 percent Muslim," Yusuf said.

The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, confirmed it had moved the aircraft carrier Eisenhower to the Somali coast -- Africa's longest -- to beef up a naval cordon it had already put there to cut off any Islamist escape via the Indian Ocean.

U.S., Ethiopian and Kenyan intelligence officials say some Islamists have hidden a handful of al-Qaida members, including suspects in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and a 2002 hotel bombing on the Kenyan coast.

Besides Sudani, Washington has named Comorian Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who has a $5 million reward for his capture, and Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan among those in Somalia.

The Washington Post, quoting unidentified military sources, said Sudani, who is married to a Somali and been in and out of the country since 1993, was a target of at least one raid.