Somali troops stage raid on 'senior' Shebab leaders: official

The Shebab were once a magnet for foreign volunteers, but their capacity to recruit has in recent years been eclipsed by the rise of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq (AFP Photo/Mohamed Abdiwahab) (AFP/File)

Mogadishu (AFP) - Somalia's security agency said Monday it carried out a night raid on key targets inside a Shebab-controlled town in southern Somalia, targeting "senior" commanders.

Internal security spokesman Mohamed Yusuf Osman said that members of the US-trained National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) carried out the attack inside Bardhere town, a stronghold of the Somali-led Al-Qaeda affiliate in Gedo region.

"The specially trained security forces have carried out a well orchestrated attack at key targets inside Bardhere district and they have returned safely after the operation," he said.

Osman said a police station and the district headquarters used by Shebab fighters and leaders were targeted in the raid.

"Our forces interrupted a very senior level meeting of (Shebab) leaders. The intelligence we had indicated the meeting was to plan for more attacks in Somalia and Kenya," NISA said in an emailed statement, which described the raid as "retaliation" for a Shebab attack in Mogadishu on Sunday.

NISA sources said that a Shebab leader known as Yusuf Haji was killed in the operation and they were working to confirm whether senior Shebab commanders, including intelligence chief Mahad Karate and Kenyan university massacre mastermind Mohamed Mohamud -- also known by the aliases 'Dulyadin' and 'Kuno' -- were in the building at the time of the raid.

Witnesses in Bardhere said loud explosions were heard during the night.

"We have heard several explosions, but it is very difficult to know more because heavily armed Shebab militants are patrolling in the streets," said Hashi Aw Adan, a resident.

US drone strikes have targeted and killed a string of Shebab leaders in recent months, including the group's emir Ahmed Abdi Godane, in September 2014, but a ground assault inside Shebab territory is unusual.

Under pressure in Somalia, the Shebab is increasingly turning its attention to Kenya. In its bloodiest attack to date four Shebab gunmen killed nearly 150 people, mostly students, in an attack on a university in Garissa, northeastern Kenya, in April.