WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. military launched a strike against several suspected members of al-Qaida in Somalia, a government official said Monday night.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the operation’s sensitivity, said at least one AC-130 gunship was used in the attack.

CNN, NBC and CBS first reported the military action. Citing Pentagon officials, CBS said the targets included the senior al-Qaida leader in East Africa and an al-Qaida operative wanted for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The same operatives are also believed responsible for a 2002 attack on Israeli tourists in Kenya and an attempt to shoot down an Israeli aircraft the same day, NBC News reported.

The 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed more than 250 people. The 2002 attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya killed 15.

The White House on Monday night would not confirm the incident. Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Vician, a Defense Department spokesman, said he could neither confirm nor deny the reports of an airstrike.

There was no confirmation that the Air Force had killed either of the al-Qaida targets.

Air Force AC-130 gunships are heavily armed aircraft with elaborate sensors that can go after discreet targets – day or night. They are operated by the Special Operations Command and have been used heavily against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

U.S. Navy vessels have been deployed off the coast of Somalia to make sure al-Qaida or allied jihadists don’t escape the country, the State Department said last Wednesday.

Somalia’s effective central government fell in 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew a military dictator and then turned on each other. The government was formed two years ago with the help of the United Nations, but has been weakened by internal rifts.

Soldiers loyal to Somalia’s U.N.-backed government and Ethiopia’s military late last month drove out a radical Islamic group that had been in control of the country for six months.

The U.S. has believed for years that a group of al-Qaida operatives has been hiding in Somalia.

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