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Somali politician says Islamic movement sweeping African nation poses worldwide threat
LONDON, 4 November 2006-- Failure to halt the advance of an Islamic movement sweeping through Somalia will allow al-Qaida to build a new safe haven and threatens violent repercussions across the world, Somalia's foreign minister warned.
Ismael Mohamoud Hurreh, a member of Somalia's transitional national government, said Friday that only the lifting of a U.N.-imposed arms embargo and the support of foreign troops would allow his country to stop the march of Islamic forces -- who captured the capital, Mogadishu, in June.
Large areas of the shattered African nation, which has been without an effective government since 1991, are likely to fall into the hands of al-Qaida-backed militants without renewed peace talks or a military offensive backed by Somalia's neighbors, he told The Associated Press in London, following meetings with British ministers and expatriates.
Arab League-sponsored negotiations between the increasingly powerful Council of Islamic Courts and the transitional government collapsed in Khartoum, Sudan, on Wednesday, threatening to end the prospect of a peaceful resolution.
"There is a naivety in terms of understanding the dynamics of what is happening in Somalia, if the situation continues along this line -- the consequences are dire," Hurreh said.
"I think it is a big threat, a genuine threat and if not checked, it could pose very imminent and very, very dangerous consequences, not only for neighboring countries but far, far beyond."
Hurreh alleged that the Islamic movement, a loose alliance of Islamic courts, some more radical in their interpretation of Quranic law than others, had "established, long-standing and functioning" links to al-Qaida.
Two leaders of the movement appear on U.S. and U.N. lists of people known to have ties to al-Qaida, although both men have repeatedly denied the allegations.
Somalia's transitional government believes Islamic extremist fighters have arrived in Mogadishu from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and elsewhere to support the movement, Hurreh said.
Reopening the airport and seaport in the Islamic movement-controlled Mogadishu had been solely aimed at facilitating the arrival of militants, he said.
"What was the reason? It was to give al-Qaida access to Somalia again, that's why," Hurreh said.
Documents written by leaders of the Islamic courts, which Hurreh said had been obtained by ministers, include appeals for suicide bombers to attack targets in Kenya, Ethiopia and neighboring countries.
Hurreh said the documents also call for the assassinations of political leaders in Somalia and Somaliland -- the breakaway state which declared independence in 1991.
When the Islamic movement seized control of Mogadishu, bin Laden had praised its leaders and given "instruction to eliminate the leadership of the transitional national government," Hurreh claimed.
He said many senior al-Qaida figures who had spent time in Sudan or Somalia in the late 1980s and early 1990s aimed to return and establish Somalia as a base.
"If al-Qaida achieves what it wants to in Somalia, it would provide them with an ideal of toppling all the governments in the Arabian peninsula -- through Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Yemen, all the way to Iraq," he said.
The alliance of Islamic courts has seized control of a sweep of southern Somalia following 15 years of anarchy after warlords overthrew Somalia's dictator Mohammed Siad Barre, only to turn on one another.
Though a transitional government was formed with U.N. help in 2004 it has struggled to assert authority and now operates from the northern town of Baidoa.
A confidential U.N. report obtained by the AP last week said 6,000 to 8,000 Ethiopian troops are in or near Somalia's border with Ethiopia, prepared to support the government. The report also said 2,000 troops from Eritrea are inside Somalia supporting the Islamic movement.
Hurreh said many in Somalia did not support the Islamic movement and acknowledged conflict could become inevitable to prevent "the prospect of a return in Somalia to another round of internecine warfare."
"We will not allow them to get into power through the barrel of a gun," Hurreh said.
He claimed lifting an arms embargo imposed in 1992 would allow the government to tackle the Islamic courts, but that the support of "effective foreign troops," drawn from outside African Union nations, would be necessary.
Failing to provide support would effectively be "inviting terrorism and extremism to take over," Hurreh said.