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Somali rebel leader's fate unclear after US air strike

US strike may have killed Somalia's Shebab chief, branded by Al-Qaeda's Zawahiri as the head of the 'mujahedeen' in East Africa
Military officers stand near an intelligence headquarters in the centre of Mogadishu, on August 31, 2014 (AFP)

The death of the leader of Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels in a US air strike is a "very strong probability" but still unconfirmed, security sources told AFP Wednesday.

"There is a very strong probability that he is dead... this requires verification on the ground, which is not simple," said a western security source, who asked not be identified.

The comment was echoed by a senior Somali security official.

"We believe that the Shebab leader is dead, though we don't have his body. Most probably he is dead," said the official, who also spoke on condition he not be named.

He said he believed the Shebab were now "talking about a successor" to Ahmed Abdi Godane.

"But we are still assessing the situation," the official said.

A senior Somali security official also said Ahmed Abdi Godane was "most probably" killed in late Monday's air strike.

Contacted by AFP, Shebab officials maintained their position of refusing to confirm or deny the reports.

Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has recognised Godane as the head of the "mujahedeen" in East Africa.

Undated and unlocated photo of Ahmed Abdi Godane (AFP/REWARDS FOR JUSTICE)

Godane is included in a third category of men on whom information warrants a $7-million (5.35-million-euro) reward from the US, which also includes Zawahiri, who fetches $25 million.

Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby confirmed that the attack was aimed at the Godane, also referred to as Abu-Zubayr, and that the bombs definitely hit the meeting of Shebab chiefs.

But he said it was unclear if Godane, listed by the US State Department as one of the world's eight top terror fugitives, had been killed in the raid.

"US special operations forces using manned and unmanned aircraft destroyed an encampment and a vehicle using several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions," Kirby said.

Somali officials said late Tuesday they were still trying to establish who was killed.

"The Shebab suffered big casualties during the attack. We can't give further details until we get additional information on the exact number of casualties, but what I know is that the target was the leadership," government spokesman Ridwan Haji Abdiweli told reporters.

Washington has carried out a series of drone missile strikes in the past, including attacks reportedly targeting Godane.

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