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U.S. operation kills top Al-Shabaab commander involved in attacks in Kenya

U.S. and Somali led operation kills a top Al-Shabab commander involved in series of millitant attacks in Kenya.

The Somali government has reported that a senior al-Shabab commander involved in the militant group’s attacks in Somalia and Kenya was killed in a U.S. airstrike Sunday near the city of Jilib.

The government said the operation that led to the killing of Maalim Ayman was the result of collaboration between the Somali Armed Forces and U.S. military.

“His killing is a thorn removed from the Somali people,” said a statement issued Thursday by the Ministry of Information.

The U.S. military command in Africa, AFRICOM, confirmed that the strike near Jilib killed one al-Shabab militant and said there were no civilian casualties.

“This is another step to defeat the terrorist group that undermines Somalia’s peace and development,” AFRICOM said in a statement without identifying the deceased militant by name.

“U.S. Africa Command will continue to assess the results of the operation and will provide additional information as appropriate. Specific details about the units involved and assets used will not be released in order to ensure operational security,” the statement said.

Al-Shabab has not commented on the reported killing.

Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program offered a reward of up to $10 million “for information leading to the arrest or conviction in any country of Maalim Ayman or any individual who committed, attempted or conspired to commit, or aided or abetted in the commission of the January 5, 2020, terrorist attack on U.S. and Kenyan personnel at the Manda Bay Airfield in Kenya.”

The U.S. accused Ayman of being responsible for preparing the Manda Bay Airfield attack, which killed a U.S. soldier and two U.S. Defense Department contractors. It wounded two other U.S. service members and a third Defense contractor.

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The Manda Bay Airfield is part of a Kenyan Defense Forces military base used by U.S. armed forces to provide training and counterterrorism support to East African partners, respond to crises and protect U.S. interests in the region, according to the State Department.

The U.S. identified Ayman as the leader of Jaysh Ayman, an al-Shabab unit that conducts terrorist attacks and operations in Kenya and Somalia. 

Jaysh Ayman (Army of Ayman) includes foreign militants recruited by al-Shabab largely from East Africa.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the Manda Bay attack and published purported video of the group’s emir, Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah, personally meeting the attackers before the operation.

The Al-Shabab video claimed the attackers included a Yemeni, an Ethiopian, a Tanzanian and Somalis.

Ayman is the second al-Shabab commander connected to the Manda Bay attack who has been killed in a U.S. strike. In March 2020, the U.S. reported an operation that it said had killed Bashir Qoorgaab, who was linked to the planning of the operation.

A U.S. airstrike in May injured the head of al-Shabab’s external operations, Osman Mohamed Abdi, known as Moallim Osman.

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