- Associated Press - Saturday, June 11, 2011

NAIROBI, Kenya — The al Qaeda operative behind the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania has been killed, a Somali official said Saturday.

Somali officials have determined that a man killed by security forces on Tuesday was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, said a spokesman for Somalia’s minister of information, Abdifatah Abdinur.

“We’ve compared the pictures of the body to his old pictures,” he said. “They are the same. It is confirmed. He is the man and he is dead. The man who died is Fazul Abdullah.”

Mohammed, a native of the Comoros Islands, was on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorist list had a $5 million bounty on his head for allegedly planning the Aug. 7, 1998, embassy bombings. The blasts killed 224 people in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania combined. Most of the dead were Kenyans. Twelve Americans also died.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said: “There’s strong reason to believe he’s dead. He was killed at a police checkpoint in Mogadishu.”

Abdinur said the government is planning to issue a statement confirming Mohamed’s death.

Earlier in the week, a security officer described the deaths of two men in Mogadishu, one of whom is now believed to have been Mohammed. The security official, Osman Nur Diriye, said that two men riding in a luxury car pulled up to a government-run checkpoint Tuesday night. After security forces found a pistol on one of the men, gunfire was exchanged. Diriye said a Somali and a man believed to be South African died. The man identified as South African is now believed to have been Mohammed, Abdinur said.

Mohammed’s death would be the third major strike against al Qaeda in the last six weeks. Navy SEALs killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 2 at his home in Pakistan. Just a month later, Ilyas Kashmiri, an al Qaeda leader sought in the 2008 Mumbai siege and rumored to be a longshot choice to succeed bin Laden, was reportedly killed in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan.

The strike against Kashmiri was not the direct result of intelligence material seized from the bin Laden compound, U.S. and Pakistan officials say. If the account of the killing at the security checkpoint killing is confirmed, it would appear Mohammed’s death is also not the result of new intelligence.

Gen. Abdikarim Yusuf Dhagabadan, Somalia’s deputy army chief, said officials at first did not know who the dead man was.

“We buried him,” he said. “But soon after checking his documents, (we) exhumed his body and took his pictures and DNA. Then we had learned that he was the man wanted by the U.S. authorities.

He described the death as “similar to Osama bin Laden’s.”

“He was worse to us than bin Laden,” he said. “It is a victory for the world. It is a victory for Somali army.”

Members of Somalia’s most dangerous militant group, al-Shabab, have pledged allegiance to al Qaeda. Al-Shabab’s members include veterans of the Iraq and Pakistan conflicts.

Hundreds of foreign fighters are swelling the ranks of al-Shabab militants who are trying in vain to topple the country’s weak U.N.-backed government.

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