A US drone strike in Somalia has killed a key leader of the al-Shabab militant group who was involved in two attacks in Mogadishu more than a year ago, killing Americans, several US officials said on Friday.
It was the US military’s second strike in a month on terrorist targets in Somalia, a country against which the US has never declared war.
Hassan Ali Dhoore and two others were killed in the strike Thursday about 20 miles (32 kilometres) south of Jilib in southern Somalia not far from the Kenyan border, the officials said.
They said Dhoore helped facilitate a deadly Christmas Day 2014 attack at the airport and a March 2015 attack at the Maka al-Mukarramah hotel, both in the Somali capital. US citizens were among those killed in the attacks, the officials said.
On 5 March, US-piloted warplanes and drones attacked a Somali training camp for al-Shabaab, killing more than 100 people. While the exact death toll is disputed, according to an eyewitness and other local sources contacted by the Guardian, the strike was likely the single most lethal conducted by the US for a counterterrorism operation since 9/11.
The US is not at war with Somalia. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook claimed al-Shabaab was “part of al-Qaida”, which would place asserted legal authority for the strike under the umbrella of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force.
The so-called AUMF is a broad wellspring of counterterrorism authorities meant to respond to the 9/11 attacks, which predate the existence of al-Shabaab.
A 2012 video, believed to be authentic, announced the merger of al-Shabaab and al-Qaida.
Cook said Dhore played a “direct role” in a December 2014 attack on the Mogadishu airport that killed three African Union troops and a US citizen, and said he was “directly responsible” for a March 2015 attack on a Mogadishu hotel that killed 15.
Cook also asserted that Dhore was “ believed to have been plotting attacks targeting US citizens in Mogadishu”, but did not provide a basis for the statement.
AP contributed to this report