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Bin Laden Message: Somalia Is Front In War On U.S.
MOGADISHU, Somalia June 30, 2006 – The hard-line Muslim leaders who control much of southern Somalia claimed nationwide authority, while the latest message attributed to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden describes the Horn of Africa nation as a battleground in his global war on the U.S.
Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, leader of the militia's executive council, made the claim of authority throughout the country Thursday, striking yet another blow to Somalia's largely powerless but internationally recognized interim government.
In a weekend restructuring, the relatively moderate Ahmed was replaced as the Islamic group's overall leader by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is on the U.S. terrorist watch list as a suspected collaborator with al Qaeda.
"We hope this council will be more effective than the one before," said Ahmed, who had been reaching out the interim government and the West before he was named to the executive council on Saturday night.
The developments in Somalia are of particular interest to the United States, which has long-standing fears the Horn of Africa nation will become a haven for bin Laden's terrorist organization, much like Afghanistan did in the late 1990s.
On Thursday, U.S. lawmakers told a House of Representatives panel in Washington that the United States has failed to develop a coherent policy to stop that from happening.
In an audio message purportedly put out by bin Laden -- released on an Islamic Web forum where militants often post messages and bearing the logo of al Qaeda's production branch -- the speaker vows to continue to fight the U.S. and its "allies everywhere, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan ...."
The U.S. has accused Somalia's Islamic militia of harboring al Qaeda leaders responsible for deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The U.S. backed secular warlords in their failed fight against the Islamic militia in an attempt to root out terrorists.
U.S. policy now is to support Somalia's interim government.
Last week, the Islamic group agreed to recognize the interim government and stop all military action -- a move that signaled a willingness to accommodate the desires of the international community. The interim government carries little sway in Somalia, and its operations are restricted to Baidoa, 90 miles (150 kilometers) from the capital.
But in the days since the agreement was signed, the militia demoted Ahmed and announced that it would not consult anybody on how to run the capital, Mogadishu.
Islamic militiamen seized a clan-held checkpoint just outside Mogadishu earlier in the week in a battle that killed six people, prompting complaints that the group violated its agreement to stop all military action.
Fallout from the checkpoint battle continued Thursday, with hundreds of Islamist militiamen gathering just 500 meters (550 yards) from fighters loyal to Habar Gidir clan leader Abdi Hassan Awale. Residents started fleeing Wednesday for fear of renewed violence.
"We are responsible for the security of the capital, and those who say we broke the agreement did not understand what the agreement was about," Ahmed said.
Islamic fighters dismantled another checkpoint on the road leading to Mogadishu's weapons market Thursday without a fight.
"We will rehabilitate the militias and re-educate them," said Abu Qutaiba, an Islamic courts commander who led the takeover.
Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.
Many of the capital's residents applauded the Islamic group for ridding Mogadishu of the widely despised warlords -- some of whom sit on the interim government. But there are concerns about the future under the fundamentalist militia.
Source: The Associated Press.