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UPDATE: Sheikh Hasan Takar told pro-al-Shabaab website Somalimemo he was not killed in the drone strike, "I'm telling the Muslim brothers and sisters around the world that I’m still alive."
At least six al-Shabaab militants, including foreign fighters, were reportedly killed in a suspected US M9 Reaper drone strike in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, witnesses told Somalia Report on Friday. Kenyan sources said they were not involved in an airstrike.
The strike occurred near "K60" (between Afgoye and the port city of Marka) on Friday. The militants were reportedly travelling from Elasha Biyaha in two Toyota Surf 4x4s, heading towards Gandarshe district in Lower Shaballe region, where the group has several hideouts. Other reports suggested that the vehicles had originated in Marka.
“I heard at least three powerful blasts then saw a huge smoke plume rising from the scene after the airstrikes... We could not see any warplanes. The two cars were completely destroyed by missiles and the people who had been in the cars were all dead," a witness, Hamari Ahmed, told Somalia Report.
Another resident, who asked not to be named, witnessed the scene of the attack in the immediate aftermath, observing several body parts that appeared to have belonged to light-skinned persons.
"Some of the targeted people who were killed in the attack did not look like Somalis," the witness said.
Initial reports by local media outlets indicate that three of the dead militants were foreign fighters, including one Kenyan national. It has also been suggested that senior al-Shabaab official Sheikh Abukar Haji Ahmed, responsible for recruitment and preaching, and his driver were killed in the attack. Sheikh Ahmed Takar, another prominent al-Shabaab leader, is also rumored to have been killed (he was not).
Well-armed fighters loyal to al-Shabaab arrived at the scene in the aftermath of the attack, cordoning off the road and collecting the bodies, according to residents and witnesses.
Residents described the explosion as massive. The M9 Reaper can now carry 500lb GBU 38 smart bombs along with four remotely laser-targeted Hellfire missiles.
Somalia Report attempted to contact al-Shabaab officials for comment, including Sheikh Mukhtar Robow and the group’s spokesman, Sheikh Ali Dhere, but our phone calls went unanswered.
African Union (AMISOM) nor Transitional Federal Government (TFG) officials have not commented on the attack.