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US launches air strike in Somalia

THE US has carried out an air strike against members of a suspected al- Qaeda cell in a village in southern Somalia.

The targets were reported to have been tracked by aerial reconnaissance and then attacked by a US gunship launched from a US military base in Djibouti. The US believes al-Qaeda operatives held responsible for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa have been hiding in Somalia.

The Somali transitional government says many people were killed in the raid. The air strikes took place a few days after the Union of Islamic Courts, which had taken control of much of central and southern Somalia during the past six months, was routed by soldiers from Ethiopia and Somalia's transitional government.

The US accused the Islamists of having links to al-Qaeda - charges they denied. There has been no official confirmation from the Pentagon that the air strike took place, but correspondents say a statement is expected within hours.

Location of militias and US Navy patrols Somalia's interim President Abdullahi Yusuf backed the US action.

"The US has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania," he said in Mogadishu, a day after entering the city for the first time since the Islamists withdrew. The bombing is the first overt military action by the US in Somalia since the 1990s and the botched intervention - known as Black Hawk Down - in which 18 servicemen died.

'Opportunistic attempt' The attack was carried out by an Air Force AC-130, a heavily-armed gunship that has highly effective detection equipment and can work under the cover of darkness. Many other Islamist fighters are in hiding.

The BBC's Adam Mynott in Nairobi says the attack seemed to be an opportunistic attempt by the US to destroy an al-Qaeda cell that they had been tracking for some time.

The cell is believed to be behind the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and Dar Es Salaam, in Tanzania. More than 250 people died in the two attacks.

The US also holds the same group responsible for attacks on an Israeli aircraft and Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya in 2002, in which 15 people died. The CNN had also reported that the U.S.- led airstrike in Somalia had killed the suspected orchestrator of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa.

However, U.S. officials would not confirm that al Qaeda's Fazul Abdullah Mohammed had been killed or American involvement in the airstrikes.

Backed by U.S. air support, Ethiopian and Somali government forces battled Islamist fighters and al Qaeda operatives in the southern town of Dhobley near the Kenyan border, according to Col. Abdirizaq Afgadud, a senior Somali military commander, and Abdirashid Hidig, a lawmaker.

Mohammed, one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists, was accused of planning the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that killed 225 people. A $5 million reward had sought his capture.


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