Al Shabab spy chief killed in air strike: Kenya

Kenyan troops, part of an African Union force fighting the insurgents in Somalia, killed Mahad Karate, a top commander and spy chief, in a “major” strike, the army said in a statement.

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NAIROBI // The intelligence chief of Al Shabab insurgents and 10 other commanders were killed in an air strike in Somalia, Kenya’s army said on Thursday.

Kenyan troops, part of an African Union force in Somalia (Amisom) fighting the insurgents, claimed to have killed top commander Mahad Karate in an air strike at a Shabab training camp 10 days ago. Kenya celebrated what it called a “major blow” to the Al-Qaeda-linked group with the killing of Karate, who has a $5 million US bounty on his head.

Al Shabab however dismissed the claim as “baseless”.

Karate – leader of the Shabab’s Amniyat unit, a special security wing responsible for intelligence, attacks and assassinations – is said to have been involved in plotting the 2015 massacre of 148 people at Garissa university in northeastern Kenya.

“The killing ... is a major blow to the terrorist group,” army spokesman David Obonyo said.

“The Kenya defence forces, under Amisom operations, would like to confirm that Mahad Mohammed Karate ... and 10 other middle level commanders were killed in a major KDF strike,” in southern Somalia on February 8, Mr Obonyo said.

The claims could not be independently verified.

But the 10-day delay in announcing Karate’s death suggests thorough efforts to identify the remains were carried out.

Karate was at a Shabab training camp to “preside over the passing out of an estimated 80 Amniyat recruits who had completed their training, and were due for deployment to carry out more terrorist attacks”, Mr Obonyo said.

Karate was put on the US state department’s wanted terrorist list in April 2015 after the Garissa attack, which followed the 2013 attack in the Kenyan capital when Shabab gunmen slaughtered at least 67 people at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.

Security sources believed he was a key advocate of switching allegiance from Al Qaeda to ISIL, an ongoing and bloody debate within Al Shabab.

His death, if confirmed, could strengthen leader Ahmed Diriye’s efforts to remain part of Al Qaeda.

The Shabab is fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu, which is protected by 22,000 African Union troops.

Last week, Al Shabab claimed responsibility for a bomb attack which ripped a hole in a passenger plane shortly after takeoff from the capital Mogadishu earlier this month.

* Agence France-Presse