Foreign helicopter fires on Somali militants, narrowly misses leaders

  • New York Times
  • September 26, 2010 - 7:25 PM

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA - An unidentified military helicopter fired rockets at a house where Somali militants were meeting Sunday, residents and insurgent leaders said, in an apparent strike against Al-Shabab.

Residents in Merca, a seaside town firmly in Al-Shabab's hands, said that a foreign military helicopter was flying low circles overhead Sunday morning before the attack. The residents said they saw the helicopter coming from the ocean but did not see any ships or know what country it belonged to. According to one Al-Shabab official, the helicopter's rockets narrowly missed killing several leaders of the group.

Immediately after the attack, the group started blocking the roads in and outside the town and started investigations. They also seized cell phones from local reporters in an effort to ensure that the information did not go beyond Merca, according to residents.

The rockets hit "between two houses, and for God's sake, no one has been killed or injured in the attack," said the Al-Shabab official, who spoke from Merca on the condition of anonymity. "It was in fact a house where Al-Shabab officials were meeting."

Last year, U.S. commandos killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a wanted agent of Al-Qaida, in a helicopter raid not far from Merca. That swath of southern Somalia is widely believed to be a sanctuary for several wanted terrorists and insurgent leaders, including Omar Hammami, an American militant originally from Alabama who has steadily risen up Al-Shabab's ranks and become one of the organization's top field commanders.

Al-Shabab, an Islamist group whose members have gained a reputation of ruthlessness for stoning adulterers and chopping off hands, controls much of Somalia and has drawn increasingly close to Al-Qaida in recent months.

At the same time, Somalia's internationally recognized transitional federal government, which has received tens of millions of dollars in American aid, is struggling to control a few blocks of the capital, Mogadishu.

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