The U.S. military launched a drone strike in Somalia today that targeted a senior al-Shabab leader described as the militant group's leading bomb-maker, U.S. officials confirmed.
An American military drone fired missiles at a vehicle in the central Somali region of Middle Juba, the officials told ABC News.
The main target of the missile strike was Ibrahim Ali, whom they described as al-Shabab's top bomb-maker who oversaw the group's improvised explosive device network, one of the officials said. The extremist group is tied to al Qaeda and at one time controlled the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
U.S. officials are optimistic that Ali died in the attack, the official said.
The strike killed at least two al-Shabab operatives, according to local news reports. An al-Shabab member said one of those killed in the attack was the group's bomb-making expert, also known as "Anta," The Associated Press reported.
The U.S. military conducts counterterrorism operations in Somalia targeting the al-Shabab network. In January 2012, President Obama disclosed the counterterrorism operations in a report to Congress, saying, "In a limited number of cases, the U.S. military has taken direct action in Somalia against members of al-Qa'ida, including those who are also members of al-Shabaab, who are engaged in efforts to carry out terrorist attacks against the United States and our interests."
That counterterrorism effort can take the form of strikes conducted by remotely piloted Predator drones or from snatch operations undertaken by elite Special Operations forces.
In early October, members of the Navy's elite SEAL Team Six conducted an unsuccessful raid to "snatch" a top al-Shabab planner known by the moniker "Ikrima." He is described as having plotted attacks in eastern Africa.
The terror group launched the deadly attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi last month that killed 67 civilians.