Smoke rises from the Westgate mall in Nairobi on September 23, 2013. Kenyan troops were locked in a fierce firefight with Somali militants inside an upmarket Nairobi shopping mall in a final push to end a siege that has left 43 dead and 200 wounded with an unknown number of hostages still being held. Somalia's Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab rebels said the carnage at the part Israeli-owned complex mall was in retaliation for Kenya's military intervention in Somalia, where African Union troops are battling the Islamists.
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02:16 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Ahmed Godane was the leader of Somali militant group Al-Shabaab

He allegedly was behind 2013's deadly siege of a Nairobi, Kenya, shopping mall

U.S. military attack killed him this week, Pentagon says

His death is "a major symbolic and operational loss to Al-Shabaab," official says

CNN  — 

Ahmed Godane, the leader of the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab, was killed this week in a U.S. military operation, the Pentagon said Friday.

“Removing Godane from the battlefield is a major symbolic and operational loss to Al-Shabaab,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon press secretary.

Godane had been at the helm since the group started a campaign of terror in East Africa, killing Somali officials, aid workers and others in a spate of suicide bombings.

U.S. officials were tipped off to what Kirby called “actionable intelligence … strong enough” to suggest his whereabouts.

In response, U.S. commandos flew – aided by drones – into an area south of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, around 6:20 p.m. (11:20 a.m. ET) Monday.

Commandos flew in Monday and took the leader out with the help of drones and laser-guided missiles, Kirby said.

Sidii said, “I never heard such a huge and deafening blast as the result of the airstrike.”

Earlier this week, Kirby didn’t elaborate on how much firepower was involved, beyond the use of Hellfire and laser-guided missiles. Somali intelligence officials counted at least four such missiles.

After the attack, an Al-Shababb Twitter account said one person was killed but asserted it wasn’t Godane. “‘Ahmed Abdi Godane’ is alive and doing fine,” the tweet said, calling itself an “official mujahedin account” in the Islamic land of Somalia.

At the time, CNN was unable to verify the authenticity of that claim on Twitter.

The man behind Al-Shabaab

Godane, who was also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, became the leader of the militant group in 2008.

Traditionally, Al-Shabaab focused on bringing Islamic rule to Somalia, attracting dozens of ethnic Somalis – and a few Westerners – from the United States and Europe.

The group started off with a goal of waging a war against the Somali government in an effort to implement a stricter form of Islamic law, or sharia.

A year ago, militants raided a mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi in an audacious siege that lasted days and left 67 people dead.

Still, the Westgate siege demonstrated Godane’s desire to align his group more closely with al Qaeda. In a taped message afterward, he noted the attack took place “just 10 days after the anniversary date of the blessed 9/11 operations.”

Under Godane, the terror group became a formal ally of al Qaeda.

Godane was said to be 37 years old, and was originally from Somaliland in northern Somalia. He was slim to the point of wispy, as seen in the few photographs of him, and preferred recording audio messages to appearing in public.

A former Somali prime minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, once described Godane as the cleverest of Al-Shabaab’s leaders.

The U.S. government’s Rewards for Justice program listed him under another alias, Ahmed Abdi Aw-Mohamed, and offered up to $7 million last year for information leading to his location.

Read: What to know about Al-Shabaab

Read: Ruthless leader aims to extend reach of Al-Shabaab, eyes the West

CNN’s Tim Lister, Greg Botelho, Holly Yan and Omar Nor contributed to this report.