MOGADISHU An unmanned U.S. spy drone has crashed in Somalia's southern port city of Kismayu, a bastion of the al Qaeda-allied al Shabaab Islamist group, a rebel official and residents said.
The incident over the weekend came as residents cited an increase in the frequency of drones flying over Kismayu in the past few weeks.
The U.S. embassy in Nairobi declined to comment immediately.
"This plane was a spy for the American government and by the will of Allah, it crashed near the airport," al Shabaab official Sheikh Ibrahim Guled told Reuters on Monday.
"We did not target it but it fell down," he said, although the group's radio station in Kismayu said the drone was shot down by its militants as it patrolled above the airport.
A Kismayu resident, who gave his name as Ali Gab, also confirmed he saw the crashed drone.
"I saw the plane at the police station ... We did not see any damage on it," he said, suggesting a technical fault may have caused the crash.
The United States has authorized covert operations in the Horn of Africa nation in the past. U.S. special forces killed one of east Africa's top al Qaeda militants, Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Nabhan, in southern Somalia in September 2009.
U.S. officials have said they have a list of suspects they believe are in Somalia and constantly monitor the country with a view to striking if any are spotted.
Last week The Washington Post reported the United States was building a ring of secret drone bases in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula as part of an aggressive campaign against al Qaeda affiliates in the anarchic Somali state and crisis-hit Yemen.
The article said Washington had flown drones over Somalia and Yemen from bases in the African nation of Djibouti. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that unmanned aircraft have also conducted missions over Somalia from the Seychelles.
Al Shabaab launched an insurgency against Somalia's Western-backed government four years ago, in the latest cycle of violence to grip the country since the 1991 toppling of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. Fighting has killed more than 21,000 people since al Shabaab launched its insurgency in 2007.
(Reporting by Sahra Abdi in Nairobi; writing by Yara Bayoumy; editing by Richard Lough)