By Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia's president said his security forces will defeat al Qaeda and its affiliate militants in the war-ravaged country after they killed Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Africa's most wanted al Qaeda operative, this week.
"We have overpowered al Qaeda and al Shabaab in Somalia, they are weak and now melting away," said President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, whose Horn of Africa country has been without effective central government since 1991.
"(Mohammed's) death is a major setback to al Shabaab and al Qaeda... He was a great burden to our government and to the neighboring countries," Ahmed told reporters.
Mohammed reputedly ran al Qaeda in east Africa from his base in southern Somalia, where he hid for more than a decade after being accused of playing a lead role in 1998 U.S. embassy attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, which killed 240 people.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is on a visit to Tanzania's capital Dar es Salaam, said that al Qaeda had suffered a blow with the death of Osama bin Laden, and another "significant blow" with the death of Mohammed.
"Some of you lost loved ones... we have not forgotten your losses," said Clinton. Mohammed had been responsible for "despicable acts" which killed hundreds and injured thousands during his career, she said.
"We have not forgotten our pledge to seek justice against those who would commit such atrocities," she said after laying a wreath during a memorial service at the embassy.
Security forces shot Mohammed at midnight on Tuesday at a checkpoint after an exchange of fire in the chaotic rubble-strewn streets of the capital Mogadishu.
Abdikarim Hassan Jama, Somalia's information minister said security forces had not at first realized who they had shot, but became curious when they saw his documents and mobile phones.
"We started investigating after we found eight mobiles (phones), two laptops, weapons, pictures and documents in the car. We took his DNA to Nairobi. After three days the man we killed was proved to be the wanted Fazul," Jama told reporters.
Analysts said his death robbed al Qaeda and Somali affiliate al Shabaab of its most skilled operator and trainer, a master of attack planning as well as a computer expert with at least 18 aliases and a flair for disguise, forgery and bomb-making.
Ahmed's administration, which has clawed back territory taken by al Shabaab in Mogadishu in recent weeks, was rocked on Friday by the killing of the interior minister in a bomb blast.
Kenyan and Tanzanian authorities have made no comment on the death of Mohammed, also known as Harun, who had escaped from Kenyan police custody at least once and for whom the United States had offered a $5 million bounty.
The Comoran, said to be in his late 30s and who spoke five languages, also masterminded an attack on a hotel in Kenya in November 2002 that killed 15 people, Western officials say.
Some security experts believe he was involved in a twin bomb attack on July 11 that killed 79 people watching the World Cup final in Uganda's capital Kampala. Somalia's al Shabaab claimed responsibility for that strike, its first on foreign soil.
Somalia's Ahmed said Mohammed was also wanted for the suicide bombing of a Mogadishu hotel in which three government ministers were killed in 2009 during a graduation ceremony.
(Additional reporting by James Macharia in Nairobi; Andrew Quin in Dar es Salaam; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Louise Ireland)