Monday, July 11, 2005
New Qaeda-linked "jihadi" group in Somalia -ICG
By Andrew Cawthorne
NAIROBI, July 10 (Reuters) - A new group of al Qaeda-linked "jihadis" or "holy warriors" has won a foothold in Somalia and though small may flourish if stable rule does not return to the anarchic Horn of Africa nation, a report said on Sunday.
The "new, ruthless independent jihadi network" is run from the capital Mogadishu by a militia boss trained in Afghanistan and has already killed several foreign aid workers, the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank said.
"Ultimately, the threat of jihadi terrorism from Somalia can only be addressed through the restoration of stable, legitimate and functional government," added the ICG document, seen by Reuters in advance of its formal release this week.
Western security services have long viewed lawless Somalia as a haven for terrorists. Warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and took over the country in 1991.
Somalia-based al Qaeda operatives were thought involved in two suicide attacks in neighbouring Kenya that killed 224 at the U.S. embassy in 1998 and 15 at an Israeli-owned hotel in 2002.
A 14th attempt to re-establish government since 1991 is currently underway. But an interim administration that has just relocated to Somalia from Kenya is riven by factional rivalry.
"If they fail ... jihadis will gradually find growing purchase among Somalia's despairing and disaffected citizenry, and it will only be a matter of time before another group of militants succeeds in mounting a spectacular terrorist attack against foreign interests in Somalia or one of its neighbours," ICG said.
Though dangerous, the new group remains relatively small.
"In reality, jihadism is an unpopular, minority trend among Somali Islamists ... The new jihadi network's effective membership probably is in the tens rather than the hundreds," ICG said.
Furthermore, contrary to some more alarming reports, "ranking al-Qaeda operatives in Somalia probably number less than half a dozen. Several Western countries host larger and more sophisticated jihadi networks," ICG added.
New President Abdullahi Yusuf wants foreign peacekeepers to help him set up a government, but the influential Brussels-based think-tank said that risked creating a cause celebre for extremists.
"The jihadis are praying for the Ethiopians to come", it quoted one moderate Islamist in Somalia as saying. "They can easily make Somalia like Iraq."
Many among Somalia's overwhelmingly Muslim 10 million population are hostile to the dominant regional influence of their large, nominally Christian-led neighbour Ethiopia.
The ICG said the new jihadi movement was one of three radical groups in Somalia, with an al Qaeda cell and the weakened remnants of an Islamist and nationalist group called al-Itihaad al-Islaami.
Since its emergence in 2003 under the leadership of Aden Hashi Ayro -- the Afghanistan-trained protege of a former al-Itihaad commander -- the new group has been implicated in assassinations of four aid workers and at least 10 Somali ex-military and police officers working in counter-terrorism.
"It has no known name, its membership is largely clandestine and its aims are undeclared," the report said, adding that the group was behind the recent desecration of an Italian colonial-era cemetery.
The group has caught the eye of the United States, which is said to have stepped up its anti-terrorism work in Somalia through surveillance flights and cooperation with regional and local intelligence arms.
"In the rubble-strewn streets of the ruined capital of this state without a government ... al-Qaeda operatives, jihadi extremists, Ethiopian security services and Western-backed counter-terrorism networks are engaged in a shadowy and complex contest waged by intimidation, abduction and assassination.