WASHINGTON -- The U.S. carried out a missile strike in southern Somalia on Sunday that is believed to have killed a militant leader linked to Al Qaeda, officials said.
The airstrike in a remote area near the town of Barawe was aimed at a leader of the Shabab, the Somali Islamic militant group, the officials said.
It appeared that the man was killed when the missile hit his vehicle, said one of the officials, who were speaking anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the operation.
A rebel leader told the Associated Press that it was Sahal Iskudhuq, a Shabab commander who was close to the head of the militant Islamist group, and to Al Qaeda.
The U.S. has stepped up military operations in Somalia. This month, Pentagon officials acknowledged that several advisors had been sent to Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, to advise African Union troops and Somalia's fledgling military.
Last October, U.S. Navy SEALs conducted a raid at a seaside villa near Barawe seeking to kill or capture another Shabab leader, a Kenyan of Somali descent known as Ikrima, who commands the group's foreign fighters.
But the SEALs abandoned the attack after coming under intense gunfire, officials said at the time.
Another U.S. missile strike last October killed one of the group's top explosives experts, officials said.
The Shabab ruled large parts of southern Somalia until it was driven out of Mogadishu by the African forces.
The group has remained a potent force in rural areas and has drawn U.S. attention since it declared its allegiance to Al Qaeda two years ago.
U.S. intelligence analysts say some members of the group have shown increasing interest in mounting attacks outside Somalia.
Last September, Shabab fighters stormed a mall in Kenya, killing dozens until the attack was put down by Kenyan security forces.