Top Islamic State official dies in airstrike

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An airstrike killed the deputy leader of the Islamic State group in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region, alongside another militant, a local security official said.

A witness said a 4×4 vehicle was hit by several missiles outside Xiriiro in the Qandala hills on Sunday.

“Today’s air strike killed Abdihakim Dhuqub, the deputy leader of Islamic State,” Puntland’s security minister, Abdisamad Mohamed Galan, told Reuters.

According to the United Nations, Dhuqub helped set up the first cell of al-Ittihad al-Islamiya (AIAI), an ideological predecessor to al Shabaab, a militant group fighting the Somali national government for over a decade.

He later defected to Islamic State.

Somalia has been riven by civil war and Islamist militancy – more in the south than in the north where Puntland is – since 1991 when clan warlords overthrew a dictator before turning on each other.

“Several missiles hit a Suzuki. Then helicopters hovered over the scene,” Mohamed Iid, a resident of Xiriiro, told Reuters. “It was a deafening air strike. We reached the scene after the helicopters left. The car melted.”

Matt Bryden, head of the Nairobi-based think tank Sahan Research, downplayed the significance of the killing because IS in Somalia is believed to have a comparatively small force of 150-200 soldiers.

“If you take into account they’ve never done a large terror attack in several years of operation, you basically have a gang in the desert,” he told Reuters.

“Just because they are called ISIS doesn’t make them an existential threat.”