[dehai-news] (Miami Herald) Islamist rise in Somalia is latest worry for U.S.


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From: Biniam Tekle (biniamt@dehai.org)
Date: Mon Nov 24 2008 - 09:33:28 EST


"In backing the Ethiopian invasion two years ago, Bush administration
officials made similar allegations about leaders of the Islamic courts,
including Hassan Dahir Aweys, a hard-liner who commands a militia from his
base in neighboring Eritrea. But in a sign of a softer approach this time
around, the U.S. official said that American envoys had met with allies of
Aweys in recent months."

 Islamist rise in Somalia is latest worry for U.S. A resurgence of Islamists
in Somalia is a setback for the U.S. fight against terrorism. BY SHASHANK
BENGALI McClatchy News Service

November 23, 2008

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Al Shabaab, a radical Islamist group that U.S. officials
say is tied to al Qaeda, has methodically seized much of southern Somalia
and is poised to take the capital, Mogadishu, as the country's
internationally backed government nears collapse.

The rise of al Shabaab -- from the Arabic word for ''youth'' -- in many ways
represents the very scenario that the Bush administration sought to avoid
two years ago when it quietly backed an invasion by Somalia's neighbor,
Ethiopia, to drive a federation of hard-line Islamic courts out of
Mogadishu.

The invasion aimed to forestall a Taliban-style regime that could have
become an East African haven for jihadists. But diplomats, regional analysts
and former Shabaab fighters say that it has fueled a diverse Islamist
insurgency that is stronger and more sophisticated than ever, and now seems
bent on retaking control of the country.

American officials ''are fearful'' of a return to hard-line Islamist rule in
Somalia, according to one official who wasn't authorized to discuss the
subject publicly. ''There's no question that [the insurgency] is more
violent than it has been in recent history, and we are extremely concerned
about that,'' the U.S. official said.

Of several insurgent factions claiming territory in southern Somalia, the
most powerful is unquestionably al Shabaab, whose leaders claim allegiance
to Osama bin Laden and rule based on a strict form of sharia, or Islamic
law.

In recent months, their forces have been bolstered by the arrival of
foreign-trained jihadists and by ready supplies of cash, weapons and
mercenaries flowing easily through one of the most lawless and impoverished
regions of Africa.

The group has recruited perhaps hundreds of fighters from across the
permeable border in Kenya, paying young, jobless Muslim men upward of $100 a
month and promising large sums to the families of martyrs, say Kenyan
ex-militants.

They're also joined by a small but influential number of jihadists from Arab
countries who train the mostly young and inexperienced Somali fighters in
suicide bombing and other tactics, the fighters say.

*BLAMED FOR BOMBS*

Despite nearly two decades of chaos and militia rule, foreign fighters are a
new phenomenon in Somalia and a sign that al Shabaab is ''becoming more
dangerous,'' said Richard Barno of the Institute for Security Studies, a
think tank based in South Africa. Analysts credit Shabaab's foreign wing
with plotting five coordinated car bombings in northern Somalia last month
that killed at least 31 people -- the worst terrorist strike in the country
in recent memory.

Analysts say it's unclear if Shabaab's links to al Qaeda are operational or
mere bluster, but CIA director Michael Hayden last week identified Somalia
as a region where al Qaeda was forming new partnerships. In March, the State
Department designated al Shabaab as a terrorist organization that included
''a number of individuals affiliated with al Qaeda'' and that ``many of its
senior leaders . . . trained and fought with al Qaeda in Afghanistan.''

U.S. officials accuse the group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 attacks
on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed more than 220 people.
The Pentagon has launched several airstrikes inside Somalia against
suspected terrorists, including Aden Hashi Ayro, a top Shabaab commander and
reputed al Qaeda operative, who was killed in a U.S. strike in May.

In backing the Ethiopian invasion two years ago, Bush administration
officials made similar allegations about leaders of the Islamic courts,
including Hassan Dahir Aweys, a hard-liner who commands a militia from his
base in neighboring Eritrea. But in a sign of a softer approach this time
around, the U.S. official said that American envoys had met with allies of
Aweys in recent months.

Aweys's forces have sometimes fought alongside al Shabaab against Ethiopian
forces and secular, clan-based militias. In a recent interview with
McClatchy, Mukhtar Robow, a Shabaab senior commander, said that he and Aweys
''have a common enemy and are pursuing a common goal in the struggle to
liberate our country'' from Ethiopian forces.

*FRIEND OF BIN LADEN*

While Robow accused the United Nations and the African Union peacekeeping
mission of siding with the Somali government -- his fighters have attacked
peacekeepers and are suspected of murdering and kidnapping aid workers -- he
denied a global or anti-American agenda.

But he expressed allegiance to bin Laden's worldview and said that his
fighters, if called upon by Islamic militant groups in other countries,
would 'join them to liberate them from Americans' interference in their
affairs.''

Experts believe that al Shabaab and its allies are waiting for Ethiopian
forces to leave to avoid a bloody battle for Mogadishu, but Ethiopia has
been vague about a timetable for withdrawal.

         ----[This List to be used for Eritrea Related News Only]----


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