- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2007

2:17 p.m.

MOGADISHU, Somalia — U.S. helicopter gunships carried out new attacks today against suspected al Qaeda members, a Somali official said, a day after American forces made air strikes in the first offensive in the African country since 18 U.S. troops were killed there in 1993.

The latest attacks killed at least 27 civilians in the town of Afmadow in southern Somalia, lawmaker Abdiqadir Daqane said.

At least one AC-130 gunship carried out an air strike yesterday evening against targets in the town about 220 miles southwest of the capital of Mogadishu, Somali officials said. It was not immediately clear how many people died in those attacks, but Somali officials said there were reports that many were killed.

The U.S. attacks were targeting Islamist extremists, said a Somali Defense Ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak. Earlier, Somalia’s president had said the U.S. was hunting suspects in the 1998 bombings of the two U.S. embassies in East Africa, and had his support.

The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived off Somalia’s coast and carried out intelligence-gathering missions over Somalia, the military said. Three other U.S. warships are conducting anti-terror operations off the Somali coast.

U.S. warships have been seeking to capture al Qaeda members thought to be fleeing Somalia after Ethiopia invaded Dec. 24 in support of the government and drove the Islamic militia out of the capital and toward the Kenyan border.

The Islamist extremists are believed to be sheltering suspects in the embassy bombings, and the raids are designed to keep the militants from posing a new threat to the government.

The White House would not confirm the attacks, nor would the Pentagon.

It was the first U.S. offensive in the Horn of Africa country since Americans led a U.N. force in the 1990s that intervened in Somalia in an effort to fight famine. The mission led to clashes between U.N. forces and Somali warlords, including the “Black Hawk Down” battle that left 18 U.S. servicemen dead.

Witnesses said at least four civilians were killed yesterday 30 miles east of Afmadow, including a small boy. The claims could not be verified independently.

Witnesses said that in today’s attack, the helicopters opened fire on the road that leads to the Kenyan border. They said they could not clearly make out the markings on the aircraft.

The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi reissued a terror warning today to Americans living in or visiting the Horn of Africa.

Yesterday evening’s air strike came after the suspects were seen hiding on a remote island on the southern tip of Somalia, close to the Kenyan border, Somali officials said. The island and a site near the village of Hayi, 155 miles to the north, were hit.

The main target was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who purportedly planned the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that killed 225 persons.

He also is suspected of planning the car-bombing of a beach resort in Kenya and the near-simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner in 2002. Ten Kenyans and three Israelis were killed in the blast at the hotel, 12 miles north of Mombasa. The missiles missed the airliner.

Fazul, 32, joined al Qaeda in Afghanistan and trained there with Osama bin Laden, according to the transcript of an FBI interrogation of a known associate. He came to Kenya in the mid-1990s, married a local woman, became a citizen and started teaching at a religious school near Lamu, just 60 miles south of Ras Kamboni, Somalia, where one of the air strikes took place Monday.

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