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US forces attack al-Shabaab Islamist group in Somalia after terrorist attack on prison

Fighters detonated a car bomb and raided the prison trying to free militants

US forces have attacked al-Shabaab militants in Somalia in an operation reportedly targeting the Islamist group’s leader.

The Pentagon confirmed the strike on Monday but did not confirm its results, saying more information would be given at an “appropriate” time.

A senior Somali intelligence official said an American drone targeted its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, as he left a meeting of the group's top leaders.

Also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, he is the group's spiritual leader under who forged an alliance with al-Qa’ida.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the Somali official said intelligence indicated Godane “might have been killed along with other militants” in the attack in a forest used to train fighters near Sablale district, 105 miles south of Mogadishu.

The governor of Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, Abdiqadir Mohamed Nor, told the Associated Press that the drone strike sounded like an “earthquake”.

A Somali government soldier fighting militants during an attack at a national security compound in Mogadishu on 31 August

“There was an airstrike near Sablale. We saw something,” he said after travelling through Sablale with government and African Union forces.

The action came after Somalia's forces regained control of a high-security prison in the capital that was attacked on Sunday by seven heavily armed suspected militants in an attempt to free other extremists.

Somali officials said all the seven attackers, three government soldiers and two civilians were killed.

Godka Jilacow prison is an interrogation centre for Somalia's intelligence agency and many suspected militants are believed to be held in underground cells there.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack that shattered a brief period of calm in Mogadishu after two decades of violence.

Photo released by the Kenyan Presidential office, showing the remains of cars and other debris photographed from the rooftop of the car park outside the Westgate Mall on 26 September

It started when a suicide bomber detonated a car full of explosives at the prison gates, followed by gunmen who fought their way inside.

Al-Shabaab was also behind a terrorist attack on a bus in Kenya last month and the shooting at the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi that killed 67 people, including six Britons in 2013.

The US has carried out several air strikes in Somalia recent years, killing a high-ranking al-Shabaab intelligence officer in January and its top explosives expert in October.

The terrorist group has often stated that its attacks are due to the continued presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia, which were sent in 2011 to help the UN-backed government defeat al-Shabaab and other Islamist militant groups.

In retaliation it has carried out a number of attacks on Kenyan soil, killing hundreds of people.

It is now mostly active in Somalia's rural regions after being ousted from the capital by African Union forces in 2011 and military officials launched a military operation to oust al-Shabaab from its last remaining bases last week.