The al Shabaab commander who masterminded an assault on a Kenyan army base in Somalia last week is believed to have been killed in air raids by Kenyan warplanes, the country’s armed forces chief said on Thursday.
The strikes over the weekend targeted two al Shabaab camps where the militants were hiding, General Samson Mwathethe, head of Kenya Defence Forces, said.
“It is believed Mwalimu Janow, the leader of (an al Shabaab) brigade, who led this attack, was killed,” Mwathethe told reporters.
Al Shabaab, which is aligned with al Qaeda, said its fighters killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers when they overrun the base in Ceel Cadde, near the Kenyan border, on January 15.
The Islamist militants also claim to have captured some Kenyan soldiers belonging to an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
Kenyan officials have not yet revealed the death toll but newspaper pictures of coffins draped with Kenyan flags bringing back dead soldiers has increased pressure on President Uhuru Kenyatta and his military chiefs.
Al Shabaab, which wants to impose a strict version of Islamic law in Somalia, said it has not lost any fighters since Friday’s attack.
“This is merely propaganda meant to soothe Kenyans’ minds after the recent shocking massacre of Kenyan troops,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military spokesman, told Reuters.
Al Shabaab on Wednesday published gruesome photos which purport to show the bullet-riddled bodies of dozens of Kenyan soldiers. Most appear to have been shot in the head.
1998 US EMBASSY BOMBING
Mwathethe, providing the first in-depth details about the attack, said al Shabaab struck the base with a truck bomb which was as powerful as the one used by al Qaeda in 1998 to destroy the US Embassy in Nairobi, when more than 200 people were killed.
The militants then detonated two more equally strong vehicle bombs and launched a flurry of rocket-propelled grenades while a wave of suicide bombers surged towards Kenyan positions, Mwathethe said.
Kenya immediately launched helicopter search and rescue operations for troops who had fled into the bushes but military reinforcements could not reach the base for two days as al Shabaab possessed anti-aircraft guns, Mwathethe said.
The Kenyan military said it was still searching for troops, though it would not comment on how many soldiers were unaccounted for.
The main opposition party in Kenya has called for the withdrawal of troops from Somalia but Kenyatta said Kenya was committed to bringing stability to Somalia, a nation ravaged by conflict since civil war broke out in 1991.