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Al Qaeda terrorists pursued in Somalia

Ethiopian, US forces search for alleged bombers

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Ethiopian and US forces were in pursuit yesterday of three top Al Qaeda suspects believed to still be in Somalia , with a senior US official confirming that none of them was killed in a US air strike .

The official in Kenya, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to address the media, said US special operations forces were focused solely on tracking down the suspected terrorists and not members of the Somali Islamic movement that had challenged the country's government for power.

A day earlier, Abdirizak Hassan, the Somali president's chief of staff, said a US intelligence report had referred to the death of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, one of three senior Al Qaeda members blamed for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But the US official said he was confident none of the three top Al Qaeda suspects believed to be in Somalia were killed in the air strike Monday.

"The three high-value targets are still of intense interest to us," the official said. "What we're doing is still ongoing. We're still in pursuit -- us and the Ethiopians."

The official also contradicted numerous statements by Somali government officials in recent days, saying the US had carried out just one air strike, and that only eight to 10 militants with ties to Al Qaeda were killed. He said subsequent reports of more air strikes and civilian casualties were rumors and disinformation spread by Islamic extremists.

US and Somali officials said Wednesday that US Special Forces were in Somalia hunting Al Qaeda fighters and providing military advice to Ethiopian and Somali forces.

The US forces entered the country last month when Ethiopia launched its attack against the Islamic movement, one of the officials said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Most of the Islamic militiamen have since dispersed, but a few hardcore members have fled to Somalia's southernmost point between the Kenyan border and the Indian Ocean.

The US Navy has moved additional forces into waters off the Somali coast, where they have monitored maritime traffic and interrogated crews on suspicious ships in international waters.