Official: U.S. Backing Somali Militants


By CHRIS TOMLINSON Associated Press Writer
 2006 The Associated Press
April 9, 2006, 3:22PM

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/world/3782265.html

NAIROBI, Kenya  The United States is backing a new
coalition of Somali militants fighting Islamic
extremists for control of the lawless nation's
capital, a U.S. official said, as both sides prepared
for a battle that could explode in widespread
violence.

Clan leaders have put aside their traditional
rivalries to take on the extremists, whom they
describe as terrorists. The extremists, though, say
they can offer unity and order after decades of chaos
in Somalia.

Residents say both sides have recently received an
infusion of cash and weapons as they face off for
control of the country, which has had no central
government since warlords divided it into clan-based
fiefdoms in 1991.

The State Department said in March that the U.S.
government was concerned about "al-Qaida fugitives
responsible for the 1998 bombings of the U.S.
Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam (in Tanzania)
and the November 2002 bombing of a tourist hotel and
attack on a civilian airliner in Kenya, who are
believed to be operating in and around Somalia."

While there have been numerous reports of al-Qaida
bombers hiding in the Horn of Africa nation, only
recently have they been reportedly involved in
fighting alongside Somali extremists.

A U.S. official, speaking to The Associated Press on
condition of anonymity because he was not authorized
to speak to the press, said prominent al-Qaida leaders
with large cash bounties on their heads are under the
protection of the extremist leaders in Mogadishu. He
did not name them, but eight men wanted in the embassy
bombings are on the FBI most wanted list.

The same official, who monitors the situation in
Somalia, also repeated the long-standing U.S. policy
of working with anyone who is ready to cooperate in
the fight against al-Qaida, adding that U.S. officials
had made contact with a wide range of Somalis. He
declined to say what kind of support the U.S. was
supplying.

Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi told AP that
the alliance of clan leaders fighting the Islamic
group was not acting on his authority, though he said
his government was cooperating with the United States.

"As far as I know the U.S. government is leading the
fight against terrorism and we are certainly a part of
that process," he said. He declined to elaborate.

The U.S. has long worried about al-Qaida and other
terrorist groups finding a haven in Somalia. For
years, though, clan rivalries may have kept outsiders
from gaining a foothold. The Islamic extremists appear
to be capitalizing on the Somali people's frustration
with disorder and instability.

Hassan Dahir Aweys, a religious leader and retired
army officer whom the U.S. government says has
connections to al-Qaida, has emerged within the last
year as the leader of a new group, the Union of
Islamic Courts. The group has recently acquired a
large arsenal and a skilled militia.

"Islam is itself a policy which God created for the
people to rule each other," Aweys told the AP. "We
will have to liberate our people from these warlords
who have been shedding our people's blood for the past
15 years."

Aweys does not deny past contacts with Osama bin
Laden, but says he has no links now with bin Laden or
al-Qaida.

A U.N. report on violations of the Somalia arms
embargo said that Aweys has been receiving weapons
from a nearby country, but did not identify it or the
source of the money to pay for them.

Last month, the Islamic union's forces beat back
militiamen loyal to warlords who have held power for
most of the last 15 years and have joined the new
government. The Islamic union's forces captured a
small airport and a strategic road to the vital
El-Ma'an port, through which almost all trade with
Mogadishu passes.

The four days of fighting left more than 80 people
dead and 200 injured.

Since then, hundreds of heavily armed Islamic fighters
have been building defensive positions in Mogadishu,
residents said. They have threatened to kill anyone
who cooperates with non-Muslims and several
high-profile intellectuals have been slain for their
contacts with Westerners, so witnesses agreed to speak
with the AP only on condition they were not named.

Residents also said that they were stockpiling food
and water in anticipation of a major battle.

Aweys, who went into hiding following the Sept. 11
attacks and only re-emerged in August 2005, has
condemned the new United Nations-backed transitional
government. The top Cabinet members are a who's who of
former warlords, but the transitional government has
taken control only of a small portion of the nation of
7 million.

In an apparent response to the Islamic extremist
challenge, several key warlords in the new government
have formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace
and Counterterrorism.

Hussein Gutaleh Ragheh, the alliance's spokesman, said
the group's goal is to capture known al-Qaida members
who have come to Somalia from Sudan, Yemen and other
countries.

"We're not fighting against any tribe or clan, we're
hunting down a few terrorists who are hiding among our
people," he said.

"We know that these terrorists are using some Somalis
after brainwashing them ... to kill the innocent, the
intellectuals and the former military officials of the
country under the pretext that they work for
foreigners," he added.

In a few months, the alliance has gone from a
disparate group of clan-based warriors to one of the
most powerful militias in Somalia. Residents of
alliance-held areas report trucks full of new weapons
arriving from neighboring Ethiopia for the
anti-extremist alliance. The source of the weapons was
not clear.

Ali Garaare, an alliance commander, said hundreds of
new fighters have joined the force.

"Our leaders used to pay us $60 dollars (a month), but
after the formation of the new anti-terrorism alliance
they increased our salary to $160," Garaare said.

Most Somalis live on less than $1 a day and the
country has few natural resources, making it one of
the poorest countries on earth.

Somalis with connections to the alliance have said
that U.S. officials have frequently visited Mohamed
Dhere, a governor in the new administration, and other
alliance leaders.

Aweys said he believes they are CIA agents who have
financed the alliance's sudden increase in cash, a
rumor widely accepted among Somalis.

The CIA declined to comment on any matter concerning
Somalia.

There have also been rumors of U.S. troops from
neighboring Djibouti operating in Somalia. The U.S.
official said the reports of military personnel in
Somalia are untrue, but would not go any further.

The official did say that U.S. officials have met with
many community leaders and provided them with
information about al-Qaida suspects living in Somalia
and have asked them to expel such people from the
country.

Dhere, who along with other alliance leaders declined
to speak to the AP, told his troops on Monday to
prepare for battle.

"You must prepare yourselves for a real war against
terrorism," local journalists quoted him as saying in
the central town of Jowhar.

"When you cut a camel's neck, you know it struggles
for its life as it kicks everywhere, and that's what
these terrorists are doing ... get ready for your last
blow against terrorism, we will have to eradicate them
from our Somali soil."





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