May 1, 2008 / 4:58 AM / 10 years ago

Somali rebels defiant after al Qaeda chief killed

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia’s Islamist rebels vowed to fight on under new leadership on Friday after U.S. warplanes killed an insurgent said to be al Qaeda’s commander in the Horn of Africa country.

People walk through rubble after U.S. war planes killed an Islamist rebel said to be al Qaeda's leader in Somalia and as many as 30 other people in Dusamareb, May 1, 2008. REUTERS/Abdi Guled

Aden Hashi Ayro, who led al Shabaab militants blamed for attacks on government troops and their Ethiopian allies, was killed on Thursday in the latest of a string of U.S. air strikes on insurgents in the last year.

Security and intelligence sources say Ayro, in hiding since a U.S. air strike in January 2007, trained in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. He was one of six members or associates of al Qaeda thought by the United States to be in Somalia.

The Western-backed Somali government is trying to stem a rebellion that has been gaining ground but the rebels said the death of Ayro would not deter them.

“Even if Ayro has been martyred, his beliefs live on. The men who he trained and consulted are still around,” Shabaab spokesman Mukhtar Ali Robow told local broadcaster Shabelle.

“We are warning the enemies of God that we will stay on the same path like the departed ... the path of true jihad.”

The pre-dawn U.S. strike on the small central town of Dusamareb flattened a stone house where Ayro had been staying and killed 30 other people, including Shabaab militiamen and civilians, witnesses said.

People gather around pieces from missiles after U.S. war planes killed an Islamist rebel said to be al Qaeda's leader in Somalia and as many as 30 other people in Dusamareb, May 1, 2008. The rebels said Aden Hashi Ayro -- who led al Shabaab militants blamed for attacks on government troops and their Ethiopian allies -- died in the first major success for a string of U.S. air-strikes on Somali insurgents in the last year. REUTERS/Abdi Guled

The U.S. military said it had carried out a strike in Somalia against a “known al Qaeda target” but would give no other details.

Ayro was a leading figure in masterminding the rebels’ Iraq-style insurgency, which has intensified in recent weeks with scores of deaths in Mogadishu and a series of hit-and-run raids by the Islamists on towns outside the capital.

Security analysts said the killing of Ayro was significant, but that al Qaeda penetration of Somalia meant he would be easily replaced.

“There are other leaders and so eliminating one will not end the insurgency,” said Mark Schroeder, regional director for sub-Saharan Africa at risk analysis firm Stratfor.

A U.S. air strike killed an Islamist commander thought to be al Qaeda's leader in Somalia and at least a dozen other people on Thursday, the insurgents and witnesses said. Dusamareb residents said several other Shabaab fighters and civilians were killed in a pre-dawn air strike. Local broadcaster Shabelle said insurgent leaders had been meeting there and put the total death toll at 15. REUTERS/Graphics

Shabaab is the armed wing of the Somalia Islamic Courts Council that took over most of southern Somalia for six months in 2006, until government troops backed by Ethiopian forces routed it in a two-week war.

Western security officials have long seen Somalia as a haven for militants. Warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, casting the country into chaos.

Somalia-based al Qaeda operatives were suspected of carrying out two suicide attacks in Kenya that killed 224 people at the U.S. embassy in 1998 and 15 at an Israeli-owned beach hotel in 2002.

(Additional reporting by Guled Mohammed in Nairobi; Writing by Daniel Wallis)

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