The report came as U.S forces apparently launched a third day of airstrikes in southern Somalia. Witnesses said an AC-130 gunship attacked a suspected al-Qaida training camp. At least four separate strikes were reported Wednesday around Ras Kamboni, on the Somali coast and a few miles from the Kenyan border.
Also Wednesday, Somalia's deputy prime minister said American troops were needed on the ground to root extremists from his troubled country, and he expected the troops soon. It was the first indication that the U.S. military may expand its campaign.
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who allegedly planned the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, was killed in a U.S. airstrike Monday, according to an American intelligence report passed on to the Somali authorities.
"I have received a report from the American side chronicling the targets and list of damage," Abdirizak Hassan, the Somali president's chief of staff, told The Associated Press. "One of the items they were claiming was that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is dead."
If confirmed, Mohammed's death would be a major victory for the U.S. in its hunt for the 1998 embassy bombers. The strike was part of the first U.S. offensive in the African country since 18 American soldiers were killed there in 1993.
The campaign is aimed at capturing al-Qaida members thought to be fleeing Somalia since the Islamic militia that sheltered them began losing ground to Somali government soldiers backed by Ethiopian troops last month.
Fazul, 32, joined al-Qaida in Afghanistan and trained there with Osama bin Laden, according to the transcript of an FBI interrogation of a known associate. He had a $5 million bounty on his head for allegedly planning the 1998 attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 225 people.
He is also suspected of planning the car bombing of a beach resort in Kenya and the near simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner in 2002. Ten Kenyans and three Israelis were killed in the blast at the hotel, 12 miles north of Mombasa. The missiles missed the airliner.
Somalia's Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Aideed said U.S. special forces are needed on the ground as government forces backed by Ethiopia are unable to capture the last remaining hideouts of suspected extremists.
"The only way we are going to kill or capture the surviving al-Qaida terrorists is for U.S. special forces to go in on the ground," Aideed, a former U.S. Marine said. "They have the know-how and the right equipment to capture these people."
"As far as we are aware they are not on the ground yet, but it is only a matter of time,"Aideed said.
Defense Department officials, speaking privately Tuesday in Washington because the department was not releasing the information, suggested the military was either planning or considering additional strikes in Somalia.
With a U.S. aircraft carrier off Somalia's coast, commanders can call in strikes. Defense Department officials said that as of Tuesday, three other U.S. warships were conducting anti-terror operations off Somalia's coast.
Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said Tuesday the U.S. military assault had been based on credible intelligence. He would not confirm any details of the strikes, conducted by at least one AC-130 gunship. He would not say if any specific members of al-Qaida had been killed, or address if the operations were continuing.