He is one of Washington’s most-wanted men.
But it remains unclear whether Ahmed Abdi Godane, the leader of the Islamist group al Shabaab, was killed in a US military airstrike in Somalia on Monday.
Several militants are thought to have died, south of Mogadishu, when manned and unmanned aircraft attacked an encampment of the group behind last year’s Nairobi shopping mall massacre.
Godane however was the main target.
Some US officials privately said they believed he was killed in the strike, but the US government was not ready to confirm that – even as it acknowledged the significance his death would have in the fight against the al Qaeda-linked group.
“If he was killed, this is a very significant blow to their network, to their organisation and, we believe, to their ability to continue to conduct terrorist attacks,” Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, told reporters.
Somali troops and an African Union mission are waging an offensive to recapture areas held by the Islamists – seizing weapons they left behind.
Al Shabaab, which wants to impose its own strict version of Islam, was driven out of the capital Mogadishu by peacekeeping forces.