The United States confirmed Friday that the leader of al-Shabaab militants in Somalia was killed in an air strike earlier this week, in what the White House called a major blow to al-Qaeda.
The death of Ahmed Godane is “a major symbolic and operational loss to the largest al-Qaeda affiliate in Africa and reflects years of painstaking work by our intelligence, military and law enforcement professionals,” the White House said in a statement.
The Pentagon also confirmed that Godane was taken out in Monday’s attack.
Earlier, the Somali prime minister said on Friday that Godane was dead. “We tell the Somalis that Godane is dead,” Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed said on his Facebook page, the first government confirmation of his death.
Earlier, the commander of African Union troops in Somalia said Thursday the continent would celebrate if the death of the chief of extremist al-Shabaab rebels in a U.S. missile strike was true.
General Silas Ntigurirwa, commander of the 22,000-strong AU force (AMISOM), said the killing of the feared Islamist chief Ahmed Godane would be a “proud and happy moment for all Africa,” Agence France-Presse reported.
Al-Shabaab are fighting to topple Somalia’s internationally-backed government and regularly launch attacks against state targets, as well as in neighbouring countries that contribute to an African Union force.
Since taking charge of al Shabaab in 2008, Godane had restyled the group as a global player in the al Qaeda network, carrying out bombings and suicide attacks in Somalia and elsewhere in the region, including the Sept. 21, 2013, attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed 67 people.
Godane publicly claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack, saying it was revenge for Kenyan and Western involvement in Somalia and noting its proximity to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
His death leaves a gap in al-Shabaab’s leadership and was seen as posing the biggest challenge to the group’s unity since it emerged as a fighting force eight years ago.