By Sahra Abdi Ahmed
KISMAYU, Somalia (Reuters) – Two U.S. missiles hit a house in southern Somalia on Monday, according to local officials, in an attack Washington said was directed at â€œknown terroristsâ€.
It was the fourth U.S. strike in 14 months on Somalia, where Washington believes local Islamist insurgents are giving shelter to wanted al Qaeda figures.
â€œWe launched a deliberate strike against a suspected bed-down of known terrorists,â€ a senior U.S. official, who declined to be named, told Reuters in Washington.
Residents of Dobley, a remote Somali town 220 km (140 miles) from the southern port city of Kismayu on the Kenyan border, said they believed the missiles were targeting senior Islamist leaders meeting nearby.
Dobley district commissioner Ali Hussein Nur said six people were killed. A local politician, who had visited the scene and who asked not to be named, said only three were wounded.
The U.S. official said it was too early to know what damage had been inflicted, or whether there were any casualties. The official declined to give details on the type of weapon used.
The Somali politician said Sheikh Hassan Turki, a local militant cleric, and other leaders of a militant Islamist group from Mogadishu were meeting. The Islamists have been waging an insurgency against Somali government forces.
â€œThe town is very tense. People have started fleeing because they fear there might be more attacks,â€ he said.
A man in Kismayu, who said the house that was hit belonged to him, told Reuters in Kismayu his daughter was among the wounded and four of his cows had also been killed in the attack.
â€œWe do not know whether the missiles were fired by the American AC-130 plane which is still flying over the city. All we know is they dropped from the sky,â€ Mohamed Nurie Salad said.
He said he was returning to Dobley to assess the damage, which he had been told about over the telephone.
On January 8, 2007, a U.S. AC-130 gunship struck Islamists in southern Somalia in Washingtonâ€™s first overt military action there since pulling out of a U.N.-backed peacekeeping mission in 1994 after the â€œBlack Hawk Downâ€ incident.
That attack, and another with the same kind of airplane shortly thereafter, struck Islamists fleeing from Ethiopian and Somali troops who cornered them in southern Somalia during a two-week war to rout the militant movement.
On June 21, a U.S. Navy ship fired missiles at Islamist fighters and foreign jihadists hiding in the mountains in the northern Puntland region.
The United States accuses Somali Islamist insurgents of harbouring al Qaeda fugitives responsible for planning and executing the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
In Mogadishu, several civilians were killed by soldiers patrolling the Somali capitalâ€™s main market on Monday.
â€œFour men were killed by stray bullets,â€ Ali Mohamed, head of the Bakara market tradersâ€™ committee, told Reuters. Witness Abdi Nur said he only saw two civilians dead.
In the southern town of Bur Hakaba, at least five people including the local police chief died in clashes between suspected Islamists and government forces, a resident said.
The Horn of Africa country has had no central government since a dictator was overthrown in 1991. An interim government formed in 2004 is struggling to assert its authority and is battling the Islamists in Mogadishu.
(Additional reporting by Aweys Yusuf, Abdi Sheikh and Mohamed Abdi in Mogadishu, Writing Guled Mohamed in Nairobi; Editing by Giles Elgood and Elizabeth Piper)