Sahra Abdi Ahmed, Reuters, March 3, 2008
KISMAYU, Somalia (Reuters) - Two missiles hit a makeshift house in a remote area of southern Somalia on Monday and local officials and witnesses said they believed it was a U.S. air strike against Islamist insurgents.
If confirmed, it would be at least the fourth U.S. air strike on Somalia in 14 months.
Residents of Dobley, a Somali town 220 km (140 miles) from the southern port city of Kismayu on the Kenyan border, believe the missiles were targeting senior Islamist leaders meeting nearby.
"Two U.S missiles hit a house in Dobley early this morning," one local politician, who asked not to be named, told Reuters by telephone, adding that shrapnel from the missiles had been found. "The missiles have U.S. markings."
The U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain and the Pentagon in Washington had no immediate information on the attack.
The politician said Sheikh Hassan Turki, a local militant cleric, and other leaders from a militant Islamist group from Mogadishu were meeting in the vicinity. The Islamists have been waging a bloody insurgency against Somali government forces.
"The town is very tense. People have started fleeing because they fear there might be more attacks," he said.
A man in Kismayu, who said the house belonged to him, told Reuters his daughter was injured and four of his cows killed in the attack.
"We do not know whether the missiles were fired by the American AC-130 plane which is still flying over the city. All we know is they dropped from the sky," Mohamed Nurie Salad told Reuters in Kismayu.
He said he was returning to Dobley to assess the damage, which he had been told about over the telephone.
On January 8, 2007, a U.S. AC-130 gunship struck Islamists in southern Somalia in Washington's first overt military action there since pulling out of a U.N.-backed peacekeeping mission in 1994 after the "Black Hawk Down" incident.
That attack, and another with the same kind of airplane shortly thereafter, struck Islamists fleeing from Ethiopian and Somali troops who cornered them in southern Somalia during a two-week war to rout the militant movement.
On June 21, a U.S. Navy ship fired missiles at Islamist fighters and foreign jihadists hiding in the mountains in the northern Puntland region.
The United States accuses Somali Islamist insurgents of harbouring al Qaeda fugitives responsible for planning and executing the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
It provided intelligence and some military support to Ethiopia's intervention to help the Somali interim government in late 2006.
The Horn of Africa country has had no central government since a dictator was overthrown in 1991. An interim government formed in 2004 is struggling to assert its authority and is battling the Islamists in the capital Mogadishu.
(Additional reporting by Aweys Yusuf, Abdi Sheikh and Mohamed Abdi in Mogadishu, Writing Guled Mohamed in Nairobi; Editing by Bryson Hull and Matthew Tostevin)