By Abdiqani Hassan
GAROWE, Somalia (Reuters) – An air strike killed the deputy leader of the Islamic State group in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region, alongside another militant, a local security official said on Sunday.
A witness said a 4×4 vehicle was hit by several missiles 3 km (2 miles) outside the village of Xiriiro in the Qandala hills at 1 p.m. (1000 GMT) on Sunday.
“Today’s air strike killed Abdihakim Dhuqub, the deputy leader of Islamic State,” Puntland’s security minister, Abdisamad Mohamed Galan, told Reuters.
According to the United Nations, Dhuqub helped set up the first cell of al-Ittihad al-Islamiya (AIAI), an ideological predecessor to al Shabaab, a militant group fighting the Somali national government for over a decade.
He later defected to Islamic State.
Somalia has been riven by civil war and Islamist militancy – though more in the south than in the north where Puntland is – since 1991 when clan warlords overthrew a dictator before turning on each other.
“Several missiles hit a Suzuki car. Then helicopters hovered over the scene,” Mohamed Iid, a resident of Xiriiro, told Reuters. “It was a deafening air strike. We reached the scene after the helicopters left. The car completely melted.”
Matt Bryden, head of the Nairobi-based think tank Sahan Research, downplayed the significance of the killing because IS in Somalia is believed to only have a comparatively small force of 150-200 soldiers.
“(If) you take into account that they’ve never done a large terror attack in several years of operation, you basically have a gang stuck out in the desert,” he told Reuters by telephone.
“Just because they are called ISIS, it doesn’t make them an existential threat.”
(Additional reporting and writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)