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Somali Islamists Reject US Warning, Test Rockets
Islamist fighters man a checkpoint in Buur Hakaba, 30km (18 miles) from the government's base in Baidoa, October 30, 2006. REUTERS/Guled Mohamed
MOGADISHU, Nov 3, 2006 – Somali Islamists on Friday dismissed a U.S. warning that "extremist elements" were plotting suicide attacks in neighboring countries, as Islamist fighters test-fired missiles and prepared for war with the government.
"We have no plans to attack Kenya and Ethiopia, neither are we known to blow ourselves up. Suicide bombing is not a Somali culture," Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siyad, the Islamists' defense chief, told Reuters.
"We are telling the American population we are not a threat to them. They should remove the administration of Bush, which resembles the Nazi government of Hitler in so many ways."
Tensions in Somalia have mounted rapidly recently and rose another notch after diplomats this week failed to bring together the Islamists, who control the capital and large parts of southern Somalia, and the weak, Western-backed interim government for peace talks in Sudan.
Islamist fighters are in a standoff with government troops just 30 km (19 miles) from the administration's sole outpost, Baidoa town. The Islamists say they are also facing thousands of Ethiopian troops who had invaded to prop up government forces.
"The onus is on us to start the fight. We will be the first to strike," one senior Islamist commander, Maalim Hashi Ahmed, told Reuters by telephone.
"If someone takes your shirt, it's upon you to repossess it. That is what we plan to do," he said. " Ethiopia has invaded us so it is our responsibility to remove them from our land. We intend to carry out this obligation as soon as possible."
Residents of Buur Hakaba, a strategic hill town near the frontlines, said hundreds more Islamist fighters were deployed overnight, and fired heavy weapons early on Friday.
"The Islamic troops tested missiles this morning," one local, Yusuf Hassan, told Reuters. "It was really terrifying."
Washington accuses the Islamists of harboring al Qaeda militants and has asked for them to be handed over. On Thursday the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Ethiopia issued warnings for American citizens to be on guard for possible suicide attacks.
"These threats specifically mention the execution of suicide explosions in prominent landmarks within Kenya and Ethiopia," the embassies said in a statement on Thursday.
It said the message was issued in response to reports of "terrorist threats emanating from extremist elements within Somalia" and urged American citizens to be vigilant and use extreme caution when going to well-known public places.
The U.S. warning came amid growing fears of a regional war.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called on all sides involved in Somalia not to escalate tensions. Ethiopia's enemy Eritrea has been accused of arming the Islamists.
"There are concerns that the situation, the current situation in Somalia, might lend itself to wider violence in the region. And we're doing everything we can to see that that does not happen," McCormack said.
But confrontation appeared increasingly likely in Somalia, where one Baidoa resident said hundreds more Ethiopian troops were seen heading for the frontlines by truck.
"The Ethiopians are waiting for the Islamists to make a move," he said. "If fighting starts, we will definitely suffer."