A U.S. drone strike has killed a senior Shabab leader near Mogadishu, the Somalia capital, according to Pentagon officials, the third U.S. attack against the Al Qaeda-linked militia since last fall.
Yusuf Dheeq, Shabab's chief of intelligence and external operations, was killed Jan. 31 by a drone-launched Hellfire missile, said U.S. defense officials who were not authorized to speak on the record.
The Obama administration has directed drone strikes and other counter-terrorism operations against Shabab for years. The group has threatened the U.S.-allied government in Mogadishu and has spilled over into neighboring Kenya.
The Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, confirmed that Dheeq was the target of the latest drone strike. He said analysts are still assessing results of the attack, but had determined that no civilians were injured.
"If [Dheeq] no longer breathes, then this is a significant, another significant blow to al Shabab," Kirby said.
Shabab, which controls a large swath of rural Somalia, has been trying to regain power since it was driven out of Mogadishu and the port city of Kismayo by U.S.-backed African Union troops in 2011 and 2012.
The militia has claimed responsibility for lethal attacks on coastal resorts in Kenya, as well as a Dec. 3 suicide bombing of a United Nations convoy near Mogadishu's airport.
Later that month, the Pentagon said it had killed Abdishakur, also known as Tahliil. U.S. officials said he had directed a Shabab unit believed responsible for suicide attacks.
In September, a U.S. airstrike killed Shabab's top commander, Ahmed Abdi Godane, as he traveled in a vehicle south of Mogadishu.
U.S. officials believed Godane, 37, was responsible for steering Shabab into closer alignment with Al Qaeda after he took over the militia in 2008. The group had previously focused attacks on Somali government forces.
Under Godane, Shabab gunmen conducted executions, amputations and other violence against those who didn't follow their harsh interpretation of Islam.
The militia also claimed responsibility for a shooting rampage in an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013. Sixty-seven people were killed, including the four gunmen, and more than 175 people were reported wounded.