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9 Jan, 2007 20:15

U.S. confirms air strike against terror suspects in Somalia

U.S. confirms air strike against terror suspects in Somalia

The Pentagon has confirmed US forces conduct air strikes in southern Somalia against al-Qaeda leaders which left a reported 20 people dead. Somalia's president  says he approves the attack.

It is believed a U.S. gunship flew from the military base in neighbouring Djibouti to launch the attack. It headed towards the southern tip of Somalia – home to thousands of radical Islamists pushed by Ethiopian-backed troops out of their strongholds.

The U.S. plane rained gunfire on the desolate village of Hayo near the Kenyan border where officials say some Islamists were providing shelter to al-Qaeda suspects.

The cell members are thought to be responsible for two deadly US embassy bombings in 1998 in Kenya and Tanzania.

Washington says its targeting of al-Qaida leaders shows its commitment to hunting down terrorists.

“We've made it clear that this is a global war on terror  and this is a reiteration of the fact that people who think that they are going to try to establish a safe haven for al-Qaeda in place need to realise we are going to fight them,” White House press secretary Tony Snow stated.

Terror suspects have been fleeing the capital Mogadishu after Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia two weeks ago to support the weak, internationally recognised government.

US and Ethiopia both accuse the Islamic militants of harbouring extremists including al-Qaeda members.

The Islamists deny any links to al-Qaeda saying it's a charge invented to justify US intervention in Somalia.

The country's president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed said he approved of the U.S. attacks against terror suspects.

“I think they are right to strike, because some of those who fled are the ones who bombed the embassy in Nairobi and in Tanzania and a Hotel in Mombasa. They are wanted and they are known as terrorists who killed people,” Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was quoted as saying.

The strike is the first known military action by the U.S. in Somalia since the early 1990s- and the ill-fated “Black Hawk Down” mission.

In a further escalation of its involvement, the U.S. Navy moved the aircraft carrier Eisenhower to the Somali coast.

It joins three other U.S. warships there and its aircraft have now begun flying intelligence gathering missions over the war-ravaged country.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is concerned that the bombing could escalate hostilities and regrets the reported loss of civilian lives.

The European Union also says operations like this do not help bring long-term peace to Somalia.