US war planes killed an Islamist rebel said to be al-Qa'ida's leader in Somalia and at least a dozen other people today in Washington's biggest success in efforts to contain an insurgency raging since 2007.
The rebels said Aden Hashi Ayro - who led al Shabaab militants blamed for attacks on government troops and their Ethiopian allies - died in the first big hit for a string of US air-strikes on Somali insurgents in the last year.
"Infidel planes bombed Dusamareb," Shabaab spokesman Mukhtar Ali Robow told Reuters by phone, referring to a town in central Somalia, where body parts lay strewn round a wrecked house.
"Two of our important people, including Ayro, were killed."
The death of the Afghanistan-trained militant is likely to bolster the Western-backed Somali government's efforts to stem the insurgency that has been gaining ground in recent months. But it is sure to enrage Ayro's fellow militants, who say they are fighting a jihad to eject Ethiopian troops.
Ayro was a key figure on the ground masterminding the Islamists' Iraq-style insurgency against the allied Somali-Ethiopian troops. The insurgency had intensified in recent weeks, with scores of deaths in Mogadishu and a series of hit-and-run raids by the Islamists in towns outside the capital.
Dusamareb residents said several other Shabaab fighters and civilians were killed in the pre-dawn air strike. Local broadcaster Shabelle said insurgent leaders had been meeting there and put the total death toll at 15.
"Bits of human flesh are scattered on the ruins of the building," witness Farah Hussein told Reuters. "People are counting the skulls to know the exact figure."
Amina Warsame, another local, said residents were woken at around 2 a.m. (Wednesday 2300 GMT) by two huge blasts and counted four planes overhead. Shabelle said they were U.S. AC-130 gunships.
Robow said Ayro had trained many men: "We know our enemy is happy today, but their work will continue."