Somali government offers amnesty to extremists

Mogadishu - Somalia's government said on Wednesday it was offering amnesty to fighters with al-Shabaab, the Islamic extremist group whose leader was targeted Monday night in a US airstrike.

Following a Cabinet-level security meeting on Tuesday, Somali authorities are giving al-Shabaab militants 45 days to take up the offer, Security Minister Khalif Ahmed Ereg told reporters Wednesday in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

He said the government "will create a better livelihood to build their future for those who meet the deadline."

The offer of amnesty comes after a US airstrike that targeted al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, whose fate remains unclear as US and Somali officials assess the outcome of the attack.

Somali forces, backed by African Union troops, last week launched an offensive on al-Shabaab's last strongholds in southern Somalia, where the militants are believed to plot attacks across Somalia that have left scores dead this year. Al-Shabaab is believed to have thousands of fighters in its ranks, fighting to impose Shari'ah law on Somalia, but the group faces increasing military pressure from African Union forces that helped to oust the militants from Mogadishu in 2011.

Al-Shabaab has since resorted to tactics that include suicide bombings and assassinations of government officials.

Godane, the group's spiritual leader, claimed responsibility for a deadly attack a year ago on an upscale mall in neighbouring Kenya, whose government has sent its army troops to fight al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Somali authorities are trying to verify whether Godane, 37, was killed or wounded in the US strike, government spokesperson Ridwaan Abdiwali said Wednesday.

Somalia's government is certain that the strike hit "a gathering" of leaders of the Islamic extremist al-Shabaab group and they are "in the process" of confirming who was hit in the attack Monday night, he said.

Abdiwali praised US support in the war on the militant group, saying close military collaboration had helped to weaken al-Shabaab.

Actionable intelligence

The US confirmed on Tuesday that the strikes, conducted by special operations forces using manned and unmanned aircraft, targeted Godane. The US launched the operation based on "actionable" intelligence, said Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson.

The US strikes hit a car in which Godane was travelling after he left a meeting of the group's top leaders in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region and Godane "might have been killed along with other militants," a senior Somali intelligence official told The Associated Press on Tuesday. At least six militants were killed in the attack, said a militant commander, Abu Mohammed, but he would not say if Godane was among the victims.

Al-Shabaab remains strong in some parts of southern Somalia, including the coastal city of Barawe, and Somali government spokesperson Abdiwali noted that it may take some time before there is confirmation about Godane's fate.

Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, was publicly named as leader of al-Shabaab in December 2007 and has since exercised command responsibility for the group's operations across Somalia, according to the National Counter-terrorism Centre.

Under his direction the Somali militants forged an alliance with al-Qaeda, and in 2012 the US offered a reward of up to $7m for information leading to his arrest.