Somalia militia pledges jihad

As if things weren’t “interesting” enough in Somalia already, it looks like they are about to get much more so. The Taliban-style militia which has taken power in the capital, Mogadishu, seems to be waging a low-level war against the “official” but largely powerless government based in Baidoa—and pledges to resist troops from the East African multinational force known as IGAD, who are about to enter the country to back up the Baidoa government. Interestingly, IGAD’s two leaders are Uganda, which is firmly in the US camp, and Sudan, which is widely perceived as an anti-Western “rogue state.” This could indicate that Washington is succeeding (or at least believes its is succeeding) in domesticating the Khartoum regime as a proxy against its regional enemies. This would explain the recent peace deal between Uganda and the Lords Resistance Army, a brutal Christian fundamentalist guerilla group which the Islamic fundamentalists in Khartoum have backed to make trouble for Kampala. (New Vision, Kampala, Sept. 20) It would also explain the endless official foot-dragging, Bush’s bluster notwithstanding, over Darfur. From AP, Sept. 19:

MOGADISHU — The hard-line Islamic militia that controls much of southern Somalia said Tuesday it will open training camps in schools to prepare students for holy war, an ominous development amid fears that a Taliban-style regime is emerging in eastern Africa.

The militia — accused by the United States of having links with al Qaeda — is challenging Somalia’s virtually powerless government for authority in this restive African nation. Tension between the two sides has increased over the past two days after an assassination attempt on the president and the slaying of an Italian nun in the capital.

Tuesday’s announcement of holy war training camps was the militants’ latest attempt to discourage foreign interference in the country. Last month, seven African countries, known by the acronym IGAD, endorsed a plan to send 3,500 Ugandan and Sudanese soldiers here.

“Our policy is to fight against countries in IGAD who are our foes,” said Fuad Mohammed Kalaf, the Islamic group’s education official. He said the training camps in high schools will be established soon but officials were still working out the details.

“There is nothing wrong with our plan to train students,” he said. “There are a lot of countries in the world that carry out such exercises.”

The Islamic group’s leader, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, told The Associated Press that Somalis must fight IGAD troops because “they are not the owners of Somalia. Somalia belongs to Somalis.”

The decision by the IGAD faces several obstacles, including funding problems, and it is unlikely to become reality anytime soon.

Security raised after suicide attack

Meanwhile, Somalia’s government tightened security around its headquarters in Baidoa — the only town it controls — a day after a suicide car bomber tried to kill President Abdullahi Yusuf. The president escaped unharmed, but 11 people were killed in the explosion and a subsequent gunbattle, including Yusuf’s younger brother.

Foreign Minister Ismail Mohamed Hurre said the government believed the car bomb and the nun’s slaying had “the hallmarks of al Qaeda.” The terror organization’s leader, Osama bin Laden, has called Somalia a battleground in his war on the West.

The Islamic group has denied involvement in both cases.

The suicide attacker drove a car into the presidential convoy, hitting the automobile that usually carries Yusuf, Hurre said. The president had been put in another car that was not part of the main convoy in a routine security measure.

Even as the militants were denouncing foreign interference Tuesday, the government called for outside help to find those responsible for the first-ever suicide attack here.

“We call on the international community — the U.S., the [European Union], Japan and any other country — to assist us in the investigation of this blast, which is a new phenomenon in Somalia,” government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said.

Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy.

The government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help in hopes of restoring order after years of lawlessness. But the Islamic movement seized the capital, Mogadishu, in June and now controls much of the country’s south.

The group’s strict and often severe interpretation of Islam raises memories of Afghanistan’s Taliban, which was ousted by a U.S.-led campaign for harboring bin Laden and al Qaeda fighters.

Since September 13, more than 3,400 Somali have escaped growing tensions and fighting in their country and found refuge in neighboring Kenya. Since the beginning of the year, more than 26,300 Somalis have sought refuge in Kenya, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees said.

See our last posts on Somalia and the Great Game for Central Africa.