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Al-Shabaab leader's fate unclear after suspected U.S. drone strike

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By Omar Nor, Holly Yan and Barbara Starr

MOGADISHU, Somalia (CNN) -- A suspected U.S. drone strike targeted senior leaders of Al-Shabaab in southern Somalia, but it's not clear if the leader of the Islamic militant group was wounded or killed, a Somali official said Tuesday.

The Pentagon would only say it carried out an operation in Somalia, but didn't offer additional details.

The strike Monday took place near the port city of Barawe, Al-Shabaab's biggest stronghold in Somalia, said Abdikadir Mohamed Nur Sidii, governor of Somalia's Lower Shabelle region.

"I never heard such a huge and deafening blast as the result of the airstrike," Sidii said. "It jolted the entire region."

Top Al-Shabaab commanders had been meeting in the area on how to stave off a joint offensive by Somali and African Union troops aimed at dislodging them from their nearby strongholds, the governor said.

He said those commanders included leader Ahmed Abdi Godane and his deputy Abu Abdalla.

"We can't confirm how many leaders were killed in the attack," he said. "We will confirm later."

Going after Godane

The United States designated Al-Shabaab as a foreign terrorist organization in March 2008.

The group hopes to turn Somalia into a fundamentalist Islamic state and has launched attacks in other countries as well. It claimed responsibility for the siege of the Westgate mall in Nairobi last September 21 that killed at least 67 people.

Al-Shabaab's leader, Godane, has declared the group's affiliation to al Qaeda and has pressed for the group to launch attacks beyond Somalia.

The Obama administration has targeted Al-Shabaab leaders in Somalia at least twice in the past year, including an airstrike in January. Afterward, the Pentagon was unable to confirm whether Godane was killed.

Group under pressure

In the latest incident, Somali intelligence officials said at least four missiles were launched in a strike that targeted a convoy of Al-Shabaab senior leaders.

Al-Shabaab is under pressure from Somali forces and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which launched an operation last week to cut off Al-Shabaab supply lines along the Somali coast.

The militants started withdrawing from the port city of Barawe in recent days as Somali troops and African Union peacekeeping forces started advancing on the port city.

On Monday, AMISOM announced that military forces had liberated several important towns from the terrorists' grip, in the Middle Shabelle and Hiiran regions.

CNN's Brian Walker, Susanna Capelouto and Nana Karikari-apau contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire

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