Islamist Courts call jihadis to Somalia
Muslim radicals looking for a new front on which to wage jihad against the West were welcomed with open arms yesterday by hardline Somali Islamists now officially "at war" with Ethiopia, their predominantly Christian neighbour.
Fundamentalists in Mogadishu's Union of Islamic Courts issued a global call to arms to foreign fighters for their campaign against Ethiopia, whose troops are in Somalia to prop up the powerless interim government based at Baidoa, north-west of the capital.
"Our country is open to Muslims worldwide," Yusuf Mohammed Siad "Inda'ade", the Courts' defence chief, said yesterday. "Let them fight in Somalia and wage jihad, and God willing, attack Addis Ababa." Artillery and rocket battles between the Islamists and forces loyal to Somalia's Ethiopian-backed -government, which raged for a fifth straight day yesterday, were the start of a "blazing fire that would engulf the region", the defence chief said. Analysts and diplomats have long feared that hardened Muslim gunmen schooled in warfare on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon would shift their attention to the brewing- conflict in Somalia.
Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda's fugitive leader, has publicly encouraged jihadists to fight in the name of Islam in the Horn of Africa. Reports from Mogadishu say the city is swamped by heavily armed newcomers. advertisementOn Friday, witnesses in Somalia's Indian Ocean port town of Kismayo, near the Kenyan border, reported several boats arriving full of men described as ethnically Arab in appearance.
"This all points to our worst-case scenario," a European diplomat specialising on Somalia told The Sunday Telegraph last night. "What started as an essentially local struggle for power between the Courts and the government now looks like it's going to escalate across the whole Horn and be played out as yet another proxy battle between Islam and the West."
Yesterday was the first time that the Islamists had called for the direct targeting of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital. That has raised fears that the al-Qaeda cell which Washington says is now running the Courts could repeat bomb attacks such as those they carried out in Nairobi, Kenya's capital, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998. Ethiopia has consistently denied that it has more than a handful of military advisers in Somalia, supporting the transitional government in Baidoa, which has little muscle of its own. But Ethiopian tanks were seen rolling towards the frontline between the Islamists and the government, just south of Baidoa. Both sides have claimed to have killed "hundreds" of the other side's forces.
Aid agencies say "dozens" have died. The Islamists' call to attack Addis Ababa may be the tipping point that allows Ethiopia to confirm that its troops are in Somalia in an effort to crush the Courts threat before it is exported across its borders. That fear seemed justified yesterday when police reported the arrests of 20 people, said to be linked to the Courts, in Ethiopia's southern Ogaden province, which borders Somalia. "The situation in Somalia has turned from bad to worse," the foreign affairs ministry in Addis Ababa said. "Ethiopia has been patient so far.
There is a limit to that." But Ethiopia and its main international backer, the United States, have been blamed for stoking tensions by painting the Courts as terrorists. More than half the key members of the 11 sharia courts that make up the Courts coalition, which took control of most of southern Somalia in June, are said to be moderates willing to talk peace with the international community. "The West and Ethiopia are making this an ideological conflict, saying, 'You are Islamic so we don't like you'," said Matt Bryden, a Somalia analyst with the International Crisis Group.
"This just plays into the Islamists' hands: it adds grist to their mill, because it appeals to ideologues on their side who say the West is simply at war with Islam and that Somalia is the latest battlefield."
In Jowhar, 55 miles north of Mogadishu, Somalis who have enjoyed peace for the first time in 15 years since the Courts took the town in June say they are now resigned to war again. "It is not the Courts who are to blame, it is the West, it is Ethiopia. They are the ones who want war. We just want peace, and now it has disappeared again," said one 26-year-old graduate too afraid to give his name.