- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The top commander for the Somalia-based terrorist group al-Shabab, which is responsible for coordinating attacks in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda, was killed by a U.S. airstrike, the Pentagon confirmed onWednesday.

Abdullahi Haji Da’ud was killed while traveling through the southern part of the East African country Friday, Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement.

Da’ud, who at one point led al-Shabab’s security and intelligence wing known as the Amniyat, “has been responsible for the loss of many innocent lives through attacks he has planned and carried out,” Mr. Cook said.

“We are confident that the removal from the terrorist network of this experienced al-Shabab commander with extensive operational experience will disrupt near-term attack planning, potentially saving many innocent lives,” he said.

Mr. Cook did not provide details on whether a U.S. drone or American fighter carried out the strike. The U.S. historically has conducted airstrikes in Africa by unmanned aircraft.

Da’ud’s death was confirmed as al-Shabab militants launched a suicide attack against the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Mogadishu on Wednesday.

“We attacked the hotel with a car bomb, and we went inside. We shall give details later,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters.

The attack reportedly took place hours before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was expected to arrive in the Somali capital as part of a diplomatic visit.

In April, a U.S. drone strike took out Hassan Ali Dhoore, another senior member of the militant group who was also a top member of the Amniyat intelligence wing, as he traveled in the same area south of Mogadishu.

A U.S. airstrike in May on a suspected extortion checkpoint of al-Shabab ended with five militants dead.

The strike, in an area west of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, was called in by a U.S. special operations team assisting Ugandan forces during a raid on the al-Shabab checkpoint, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said last month.

No American or Ugandan troops were hurt during the raid or ensuing airstrike, Capt. Davis told reporters at the Pentagon. The 15 to 20 al-Shabab gunmen manning the checkpoint posed an “imminent threat” to Ugandan forces and their U.S. counterparts, Capt. Davis said.

U.S. air support was called in after the Ugandan assault team came under heavy fire while attempting to secure the al-Shabab checkpoint, which was used by the Islamic State-affiliated group to extort money from people traveling through the area.

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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