Somali authorities say the man believed to be al-Qaida’s leader in East Africa is dead, killed during a confrontation with police.
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was believed to have played a key role in the deadly bombing attacks in 1998 that caused mass casualties and severely damaged U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. The United States considered him among the most wanted international terrorists and offered a $5 million reward for his capture.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Tanzania Saturday, said Fazul Mohammed’s death is “a significant blow to al-Qaida” and “a just end” for a man held responsible for deaths and pain among “so many innocents.”
Officials in Somalia said Saturday that Fazul Mohammed and another suspected terrorist were killed by police several days ago at a checkpoint near Mogadishu. Announcement of the deaths was delayed until their identities were confirmed, which authorities said they did by comparing the bodies to photos. The French news agency AFP says a DNA test was also conducted.
Police said Fazul Mohammed, who also was known by many aliases, was carrying thousands of dollars in cash and multiple identity documents including a suspicious South African passport.
They said they suspected the two men arrived at the checkpoint by mistake after taking a wrong turn.
News of Fazul Mohammed’s death came as Somalia’s al-Qaida-linked Al Shabab rebels claimed responsibility for killing the nation’s interior minister.
Abdi Shakur Sheikh Hassan was killed by a suicide bomber Friday inside his Mogadishu home during a meeting with associates. Several other people were wounded. Security officials and a witness say a woman believed to be one of Hassan’s relatives blew herself up inside the house.
Prime Minister Mohammed Abdullah Mohamed told VOA (( Somali Service )) the attack was “heartless and un-Islamic.”
Al-Shabab has used suicide bombings to gain control of the Mogadishu and large sections of central and southern Somalia for at least three years. However, government and African Union forces have retaken parts of Mogadishu in an offensive that began in February. Al-Shabab is trying to overthrow the U.N.-backed Somali government and set up a strict Islamic state.
The bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania 13 years ago killed 224 people wounded nearly 5,000 others. Bombs exploded in the two capitals minutes apart, without advance warning, and security officials quickly determined the coordinated attack was carried out by the Al-Qaida network.
Four men involved in the attacks previously have been convicted in the United Styates and sentenced to life in prison, but U.S. authorities were still actively seeking Fazul Mohammed and other suspects. Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida’s worldwide leader who was killed by American commandos in Pakistan last month, and the fugitive considered his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, also had been charged with responsibility for the embassy bombings.