US strikes on Somalia 'missed target'

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The Independent Online

The US air strike in Somalia missed its main target of three senior al-Qa'ida members, American officials admitted yesterday, as concern continued to grow over the rising numbers of casualties from the conflict.

A day after widespread publicity over claims that a "surgical" attack had killed Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, allegedly involved with the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, it emerged that neither he, nor two other suspects, Abu Taiha al-Sudani and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, were among the dead.

US officials insisted the 10 people who were killed in the raid in southern Somalia were Islamist allies of al-Qa'ida. But a local MP, Abdelgadir Haji, claimed there had been far larger scale civilian casualties inflicted by the Americans and their Ethiopian allies.

Mr Haji said: "The number of the dead we have confirmed until now is 150 dead. But, every day, new reports are coming in and that number is expected to rise.

"America strikes from the air. Ethiopian tanks are coming in over land and the Kenyan border is closed. The people have no escape. Hundreds of cattle were killed and no aid is being allowed over the border. It is a hellish situation."

In Nairobi an American official said: "The three high-value targets are of intense interest to us. What we are doing is still ongoing. We are still in pursuit, us and the Ethiopians." US officials also contradicted a number of statements by members of Somalia's transitional federal government about American involvement in the conflict. They maintained that US aircraft had carried out just one raid and reports of subsequent air strikes were false.

According to separate, unconfirmed, reports Mohammed and Nabhan's wives and children were caught trying to cross into Kenya from Ras Kamboni, on Somalia's southern tip.

The International Committee of the Red Cross urged all sides in the conflict to spare civilians. It voiced concern at the growing number of victims and said 850 wounded had been admitted to medical facilities in Somalia in recent weeks. An ICRC spokesman said: "Obviously this concerns the US as they are involved in air strikes there. Our message is also to the Somali transitional authority, to the Ethiopian forces and Islamist fighters on the ground."