A U.S. military drone strike in Somalia on Monday believed to have been targeting Ahmed Abdi Godane, leader of extremist group Al-Shabab, reportedly killed six people — none of which were Godane, the group told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.
A representative of Al-Shabab confirmed to Al Jazeera that the group had come under attack by the U.S., but said its leader was not in the convoy targeted.
Intelligence sources told Reuters that an airstrike hit an area where Al-Shabab leaders were meeting. The Associated Press reported that six fighters were killed in the attack on two vehicles heading toward the coastal town of Barawe, Al-Shabab's main base.
A senior Somali intelligence official confirmed that a U.S. drone targeted Godane as he left a meeting of Al-Shabab’s top leaders. If successful, the strike would be seen as a major victory against the group, which is fighting to establish an Islamic state in Somalia.
Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, is the group's spiritual leader under whose direction the Somali militants forged an alliance with Al-Qaeda.
The Somali official, speaking on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to speak to the media, said intelligence indicated Godane "might have been killed along with other militants." The official said the attack took place in a forest near Sablale district, 105 miles south of Mogadishu, where Al-Shabab trains its fighters.
U.S. commanders said they were waiting to determine the attack's outcome.
"U.S. military forces conducted an operation in Somalia today against the Al-Shabab network. We are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate," Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said on Monday.
After the U.S. strike, masked militants in the area arrested dozens of residents they suspected of spying for the U.S. and searched nearby homes, a resident said.
"Mass arrests just started, everyone is being detained," said Mohamed Ali, who lives in Sablale district. "They even searched nearby jungles and stopped the nomads transporting milk and grass to the towns for questioning."
The U.S. has carried out several airstrikes in Somalia in recent years.
A U.S. missile strike in January killed a high-ranking intelligence officer for Al-Shabab, and last October a vehicle carrying senior members of the group was hit in a U.S. strike that killed Al-Shabab's top explosives expert.
The latest U.S. action comes after Somalia's government forces regained control of a high-security prison in the capital that was attacked on Sunday. Seven heavily armed suspected Al-Shabab members had attempted to free other extremists held there.
Somali officials said all seven attackers, three government soldiers and two civilians were killed. Mogadishu's Godka Jilacow prison is an interrogation center for Somalia's intelligence agency, and many suspected militants are believed to be held in underground cells there. The attack started when a suicide car bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at the gate of the prison and the gunmen then fought their way into the prison.
A year ago, Al-Shabab attacked the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 67 people. Godane said at the time that the attack was carried out in retaliation for the West's support for Kenya's Somalia intervention and the "interest of their oil companies."
Al-Shabab is now mostly active in Somalia's rural regions after being ousted from the capital by African Union forces in 2011.
Somali military officials last week launched a military operation to oust Al-Shabab from its last remaining bases in the southern parts of Somalia. On Saturday the militants withdrew from the town of Bulomarer, located about 70 miles south of Mogadishu, after hours of fighting.
Al Jazeera and wire services