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Somaliland Says Infiltrator Exposed Terrorists
HARGEISA, Somaliland, October 3, 2005 (Reuters) – An undercover agent helped expose eight al Qaeda suspects who were then arrested before they could disrupt Somaliland's elections last week, the chief of police in the breakaway region of Somalia said.
In an interview in which he gave the first detailed account of last month's operation, Somaliland Police Commissioner Mohamed Ige Elmi said a secret agent joined the group long ago for training and planning in the Somali capital Mogadishu .
When the suspects traveled to Hargeisa, capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland , to target elections there with bombs, the agent informed security services.
"We had to attack them first before they could mount their operation," Elmi, 79, told Reuters of the detention of eight suspects in the days leading up to the September 29 poll.
"We had our man who trained with them in Mogadishu and helped them come to Somaliland , he told us by phone what the terrorists were planning to do here," he added in the weekend interview. "They arrived on the 22nd of September and wanted to create chaos on the 23rd of September."
Four of the detainees were taken in a lengthy and bloody shootout in a house in Hargeisa. The others were followed and arrested in separate operations in the Somaliland capital.
Elmi said police infiltration work continued after the successful operation. "You have to learn and know your enemies."
Somaliland , which is not recognized internationally, broke away from Somalia in 1991 after former dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre was ousted by clan militia.
Despite its relative stability compared to the rest of Somalia , the killings of four foreign aid workers -- two Britons, an Italian and a Kenyan -- in Somaliland in recent years raised fears it was becoming a base for terrorists.
U.S and other Western security services have long seen Somalia , on the Horn of Africa across the sea from Yemen , as a potential safe haven for terrorists. Some attacks, including the 1998 and 2002 al Qaeda bombs in Kenya , are believed by security services to have been planned from there.
Elmi, who has served in the police for 59 years, said the authorities were still hunting accomplices of the terrorist suspects in Somaliland .
The detainees had planned to set off bombs and target senior Somaliland officials, he said, adding that five officers were injured during the September 22 shootout with heavy weapons.
Three injured officers are still in hospital.
Among them, Omar Mohamed Ismail, 33, sustained back injuries after a bullet ripped open his hip bone.
"They opened fire when we broke into the house, they were definitely well trained with sophisticated weapons," he told Reuters from his hospital bed, writhing in pain.
Abdikarim Awale, 20, another wounded policeman who lost two fingers, said he fought for an hour before a bullet ruptured his hand. "I saw the terrorist who shot me since we exchanged fire for almost an hour before he hit me. I continued fighting after I was shot because he was still shooting at me, I had to save my life," he said.
Eyewitnesses in Hargeisa, including a newly-wed couple honeymooning in a house next door, told of their shock at the shootout. "It was a nightmare," said the bridegroom.
© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.