Fazul Abdullah Mohammed June 11, 2011 (Reuters)
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is seen in a file photo taken from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) website of its 'Most Wanted Terrorists'. Photo by Reuters
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A senior Al-Qaida figure in East Africa, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, was killed in Somalia last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday.

Mohammed's death was "a significant blow to Al-Qaida, its extremist allies, and its operations in East Africa," said Clinton, who is currently visiting nearby Tanzania.

"It is a just end for a terrorist who brought so much death and pain to so many innocents in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and elsewhere - Tanzanians, Kenyans, Somalis and our own embassy personnel," Clinton said.

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

Mohammed played a key role in a series of major attacks in the region, including a suicide bombing on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombassa, Kenya in 2002, U.S. officials said. Fifteen people were killed in that attack, including three tourists from Israel.

FailedArkia attack

On that same day, Al-Qaida failed in an attempt to shoot down an Arkia passenger plane using anti-aircraft missiles. The Boeing 757 had taken off from Moi International Airport with 271 people on board, but the missiles missed narrowly.

Mohammed was also a involved in the simultaneous attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which killed 224 people.

The militia of insurgents known as Al Shabab, considered a main arm of Al-Qaida in Somalia, released a statement commemorating the two. It said the fight against "the enemies of Islam" would go on.

Mohammed, who was born in the Comoro Islands, is described in some reports as the leader of Al-Qaida in East Africa. He was considered the main liaison between Al-Qaida and the East African militias that operate there under its influence.

The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Mohammed's capture.

Mohammed was also the brains behind the attack by suicide bombers last summer on a cafe in Kampala, Uganda, in the midst of a crowd watching the soccer World Cup finals on television. Seventy-six people were killed.

In September 2009, the United States assassinated another Al-Qaida leader in Africa, Ali Nabhan, who had been involved in two attacks against Israeli targets.

AnotherU.S. success

It is not yet clear whether the strike against Mohammed was based on precise intelligence. But his death means that the United States has scored another major success, following the killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden and Ilyas Kashmiri, a senior Al-Qaida leader in that country.

The killing of Mohammed is part of U.S. efforts that have sometimes involved the security services of a number of African countries.

"Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was one Al-Qaida's most prominent operational minds who continued to work in Africa," Yoram Schweitzer, an expert on international terror at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, told Haaretz.

"The Americans have been conducting a manhunt for him for a few years now, and at least in one case he got away at the last minute. If the current report is reliable, it's a tremendous achievement for the United States. They are paralyzing, one after the other, every commander of Al-Qaida's operational units. This is an ongoing struggle, but another domino has fallen."