MOGADISHU (AFP) — An air strike in central Somalia on Thursday, which insurgents blamed on the United States, killed at least eight people, including two top Islamists, a Somali rebel spokesman and residents said.
The Somali government said one of dead Islamists was an Al-Qaeda nominated leader in the war-shattered country.
There was no immediate comment from the US military on whether it was behind the attack on a house that residents said was used by Islamists in the Dhusamareb district of central Somalia's Galgudud regionin.
"Three heavy bombs dropped by a plane at about 2:00am (2300 GMT) hit a residential house. I have this morning seen eight bodies in the destroyed house," said resident Jamal Mohamoud.
Somali insurgent spokesman Sheikh Mukhtar Robow said two senior members of Somalia's Islamist insurgency were among "several people" killed in the attack about 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu.
"A US warplane bombed us in Dhusamareb district and there were casualties. This was an unprovoked attack," said Robow, a spokesman for Shabab, a radical wing of the Islamist movement which is fighting the Ethiopian-backed transitional government.
If the attack is confirmed by Washington, it would be at least the fourth of its kind that the US military has staged inside Somalia since the start of 2007.
The insurgency spokesman named the dead Islamist leaders as Moalim Aden Hashi Ayro and Sheikh Muhyadin Omar.
He said they are "the most important Shabab members who were victims of this foreign aggression. They passed away as they were fighting the liberation of their land."
In March 2007, the Somali government said Al-Qaeda had named Aryo as its leader in Mogadishu. The militant, in his early 30s, carried out insurgency training in Afghanistan in the 1990s and ran a secret militia training centre.
The US government added Shabab to its list of terrorist organizations in March, saying its senior leaders were believed to have trained and fought with Osama bin Laden's network in Afghanistan.
The United States has previously given Ethiopian troops tacit support against the Islamist militia who have taken control of much of southern and central Somalia.
-- In March, the US military fired at least one cruise missile into southern Somalia near the Kenyan border, targeting an Al-Qaeda leaders and operatives believed hiding there.
-- In June last year, a US Navy destroyer shelled suspected Al-Qaeda targets in mountainous and remote areas in northeastern Somalia where local Islamist militants are also believed to have bases.
-- In January 2007, a US helicopter gunship hit insurgent positions in southern Somalia to help Somali government forces.
US officials said the previous attacks were aimed at "high-value" Al-Qaeda militants. Among them were Comoros islander Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan and Sudanese Abu Talha al-Sudani, blamed for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and the 2002 bombing of a Kenyan coastal hotel that killed 15 people.
Officials say Ayro survived the January 2007 US airstrikes after he fled and left behind blood-stained identification documents in southern Somalia.
Ayro is said to have overseen the desecration of an Italian cemetery in Mogadishu, exhuming and throwing into the sea the remains of hundreds of corpses. He reportedly ordered a makeshift mosque erected there.
In addition to leading operations against Somali and Ethiopian troops and African Union peacekeepers, Ayro has also been linked to the murders of foreign aid workers in Somalia.
Since the Islamists were ousted from Mogadishu in early 2007, they have carried out attacks against government officials, the Ethiopian forces that are backing the Somali government and African Union peacekeepers.
Western intelligence has accused Somali Islamists of having links to Al-Qaeda, which is believed to want to use war-shattered Somalia as a haven.
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