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Air strike missed al-Qaeda targets in Somalia: official

A U.S. air strike in Somalia missed the senior al-Qaeda members it was aimed at, contrary to earlier reports that a senior member of the group had died in the attacks, a U.S. official said Thursday.

AU.S. air strike in Somalia missed thesenior al-Qaeda members it was aimed at, contrary to earlier reports thata seniormember of the group had died in the attacks, a U.S. official said Thursday.

At least eight Somalis believed to haveties to al-Qaeda were killed in the air strike, butthreewanted al-Qaeda members thought to be hiding in the regionescaped, a top U.S. official in Kenya told the Associated Press.

On Wednesday, the Somali president's chief of staff said a U.S. intelligence reportreferred to the death of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed in an air strike on Monday. Fazul isone of threesenior militants blamed for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Butthe U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity,said on Thursday that U.S. special forces and Ethiopian troops were still hunting for Fazul, one of the FBI's most-wanted terror suspects, as well as the two othersuspects in the embassy bombings.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Wednesday that eight suspected terrorists were killed in the attack, but their identities would not be confirmed until DNA testing is completed.

A small U.S. team has been on the ground providing military advice to government forces. The U.S. intervention, which began Monday,was the country's first offensive in Somalia since 1993, when 18 American soldiers were killed there during a disastrous peacekeeping mission.

Ethiopian troops, alongwith U.S. forces,entered Somalia in late December to support the UN-backed transitional government in its battle against an Islamic movement thought to be harbouring al-Qaeda fugitives.

Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Information Ministry said Thursday that its military would launch helicopter and troop attacks around the town of Dobley, aboutsix kilometresfrom the Kenyan border, which has been closed.

The fighting also continued in Somalia's southern tip, with soldiers loyal to the UN-backed government and Ethiopia's military battling the Islamic fighters they drove out of Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, weeks ago.

With files from the Associated Press

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