Senior al-Qaeda figure killed


Somali police said today that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and one of Africa's most wanted al-Qaeda operatives was killed in Mogadishu earlier this week.

Mohammed was reputed to be the head of al Qaeda in east Africa, operated in Somalia and is accused of playing a lead role in the 1998 embassy attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, which killed 240 people.

Police said they shot Mohammed at a checkpoint in Mogadishu after an exchange of fire at midnight on Tuesday.

Washington says several al-Qaeda members involved in the embassy bombings sought sanctuary in neighboring Somalia, where Islamist al-Shabaab insurgents, who claim links to al-Qaeda, are fighting a weak Western-backed administration.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

"We have confirmed he was killed by our police at a control checkpoint this week," Halima Aden, a senior national security officer, told Reuters in Mogadishu.

"He had a fake South African passport and of course other documents. After thorough investigation, we confirmed it was him, and then we buried his corpse," Aden said.

The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of the Comorian, who spoke five languages and was said to be a master of disguise, forgery and bomb making.

"There's strong reason to believe that this senior terrorist is dead," a United States official said.

Mohammed, believed to be in his mid 30s, also masterminded an attack on an Israeli-owned hotel along Kenya's coast in November 2002 that killed 15 people, US officials say.

Kenya's anti-terrorism police unit head Nicholas Kamwende said in Nairobi he had been informed of Mohammed's killing by US embassy sources in Nairobi.

"He was killed on Tuesday midnight in the southern suburbs of Mogadishu at Ex-control police checkpoint. Another Somali armed man was driving him in a four-wheel drive when he accidentally drove up to the checkpoint," Mr Aden said.

"We had his pictures and so we cross-checked with his face. He had thousands of dollars. He also had a laptop and a modified AK-47," he said.

There was no immediate comment from Somali's transitional government, which was rocked yesterday by the killing of the country's interior minister claimed by al Shabaab rebels.

A Western security source in east Africa, speaking about al-Shabaab as well as al Qaeda, said: "It might tone down their capability in the region. He would have been the top man to bring in resources and coordinate operations."

Mr Aden said Mohammed may have intended to take a road that diverted into an al-Shabaab base, but mistook the road and stopped at the check-point thinking it was manned by al-Shabaab. When he realised he was in the wrong place, he opened fire at police who shot back.

"That was the end of the lives of Fazul and his friend," Mr Aden said.

Mohammed sought sanctuary among mixed-race, minority communities that live in villages dotted along the coast between Mogadishu and the Kenya border, where his Comoran looks blended in well with the coast's Benadir and Bajuni people of mixed Somali, Arab, Persian, Portuguese and Malay ancestry.

J. Peter Pham, Director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, said that Mohammed's death would have little impact operationally on the Islamist insurgency in Somalia, which is led by al-Shabaab.

The August 1998 bombings also prompted the US to offer a $5 million reward for the arrest of Osama Bin Laden, who was indicted in connection with the attacks.