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Somali 'Potential Terror Haven'
Paris , September 29, 2005 (AFP) – Lawless Somalia has developed into a potential rear base for terror groups linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, but its tangled factional politics means it is unlikely to become a permanent haven, say analysts and officials.
As the breakaway Somaliland region voted on Wednesday in elections, its leaders hoped it would one day earn international recognition as a sovereign state, the remainder of Somalia remained wracked by inter-clan violence.
Experts believed that its rampant instability made it an ideal base for al-Qaeda if and when it needed to pull out of Iraq . The question was, for how long.
A former head of Israel 's spy agency, Mossad, Shabtai Shavit said: "He's going to stay in Iraq for as long as he can."
'Al-Qaeda can't stay forever in Iraq '
Shavit was referring to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terror network's leader in that country.
Shavit said: "A terrorist organization can't exist without territory. Al-Qaeda cannot stay in Iraq forever, they're going to have to find another place."
The vote in Somaliland , which had an estimated 3.5 million inhabitants, was to elect representatives to parliament.
The northwest region, which declared its independence in 1991, was regarded as an island of relative stability compared to the rest of Somalia , where western intelligence agencies feared extremist groups had set up shop.
Threat of jihadi terrorism
In a report two months ago, the International Crisis Group said a group of fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda and led by an Afghan-trained militia chief had secured a foothold in the Somali capital, Mogadishu .
The respected policy think tank warned: "The threat of jihadi terrorism in and from Somalia is real", describing the group as a "ruthless and independent network with links to al-Qaeda."
The group was said to have been responsible for the murders of four foreign humanitarian workers in Somaliland between October 2003 and April 2004.
Last week, authorities in Somaliland announced the arrest of several alleged al-Qaeda operatives suspected of plotting to disrupt Wednesday's polls and free from prison several inmates accused in the aid workers' killings.
But, after first saying that one was an "internationally wanted" Afghan-trained al-Qaeda terrorist, authorities had yet to provide any additional information about the identities of those detained.
Italian interior minister Giuseppe Pisanu said the international community was keeping an eye on the Horn of Africa, "where, in stateless lands, al-Qaeda has arrived and settled and from where it tends, in various ways, to dispatch its followers into Europe and the rest of the world".
Several senior officers in the United States military, which kept a 800-strong contingent in neighboring Djibouti , had recently expressed similar concerns and said they were actively seeking intelligence to counter potential threats.