MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Masked al-Shabab fighters came in the dead of night to pick up bits of flesh from a burned-out car that had been hit by a U.S. missile and in which a member of the armed Islamic group's intelligence unit died, a commander in the group said Monday.
Abu Mohamed, an al-Shabab commander, told The Associated Press that Sahal Iskudhuq — who was killed in Sunday's attack — had previously been in charge of kidnappings of foreigners and ransom deals for the group but recently turned to working with its intelligence unit. In that role, according to Mohamed, Iskudhuq chose targets for bombings and helped to plan attacks.
Some members of the group went to the scene in a village called Hawai and chanted "God is great" as they put the remains in sacks and then sped away in their pick-up trucks to bury the victims, Mohamed said. Iskudhuq was a senior al-Shabab member who was a trusted friend of the group's spiritual leader and top commander, Ahmed Abdi Godane.
Mohamed, who visited the scene of the attack, said by phone that Iskudhuq's driver was also killed when a missile hit their car in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, and that their bodies were charred beyond recognition. Al-Shabab would "retaliate with a bigger blow and pain against the enemy," Mohamed said.
Somalia's president said the killing is "another blow" to the Islamic rebels who continue to stage lethal attacks across the country. The president said on Twitter late Sunday said that Somalia's government is working with its partners to eliminate the al-Qaida-linked militants from Somalia.
Two U.S. military officials confirmed that there was a missile strike against a senior al-Shabab leader in Somalia on Sunday. The officials wouldn't identify the target of the strike, and one of them said U.S. intelligence is still "assessing the effectiveness of the strike."
Al-Shabab has been in decline in Somalia since being ousted from the capital, Mogadishu, by African Union forces in 2011, and now the group's leaders also are being targeted by missiles fired by U.S. drones that occasionally fly over the Horn of Africa nation.
Last October a U.S. military strike hit a vehicle carrying senior members of al-Shabab, killing its top explosives expert. Earlier that month, U.S. Navy SEALs had raided a coastal Somali town to take down a Kenyan al-Shabab member. The SEALs withdrew before capturing or killing their target — Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, known as Ikrima — who was identified as the lead planner of a plot by al-Shabab to attack Kenya's parliament building and the United Nations office in capital, Nairobi, in 2011 and 2012.
After being ousted from Somalia's capital by African Union forces in 2011, al-Shabab is now mostly active in Somalia's rural regions. It is still able to launch lethal attacks — often involving militants on suicide missions — in Mogadishu as well as across the border.
Neighboring Kenya, which has troops among the African Union force in Somalia, was the scene of an attack in September when gunmen attacked Nairobi's upscale Westgate Mall with guns and grenades, killing at least 67 people. It was not immediately clear if Iskudhuq had any planning role in that attack.