Senior Shebab leader killed in US strike in Somalia: Pentagon

Alleged Al-Shabab fighters are loaded onto a police truck on January 15, 2013 after being arrested during an operation against the fundamentalist group in Mogadishu (AFP Photo/Mohamed Abdiwahab)

Washington (AFP) - A senior leader of Al-Qaeda's East Africa branch, the Shebab, died in a US air strike in Somalia last week which also killed two other militants, the Pentagon said Monday.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said that removal of Abdirahman Sandhere "is a significant blow to al-Shebab and reflects the painstaking work by our intelligence, military, and law enforcement professionals."

Sandhere, "also known as 'Ukash,' a senior leader of the al Qaeda-affiliated group al-Shebab, is dead as a result of a US military air strike in Somalia undertaken on December 2" he said.

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

The group has lost much ground in recent years but remain a threat in both Somalia and neighboring Kenya, where they have carried out a series of attacks.

The movement is also facing growing divisions with some members shifting allegiance from Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State group.

The United States has led drone strikes in Somalia against the Shebab since 2011.