HOME About Blog Contact Hotel Links Donations Registration
NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Fearing offensive, Somalis flee warlord stronghold

MOGADISHU, June 8 (Reuters) - Scores of Somali residents fled the warlord stronghold of Jowhar on Wednesday fearing a bloody offensive for control of the town by Islamic militia who took Mogadishu two days ago.

Gunmen loyal to sharia courts seized the capital on Monday from a self-styled anti-terrorism coalition of warlords, widely believed to be backed by Washington. Their victory came after fierce fighting that had killed 350 people since February.

Locals said the warlords were preparing to defend their last redoubt of Jowhar, 90 km (55 miles) north of the capital, including an advance line outside the town.

"There are so many fighters and weapons in Jowhar but most of them have been taken to the Congo military camp 5 km away," Abdi Warsame, a farmer, said by telephone.

Fighters loyal to Jowhar warlord Mohamed Dheere had been reinforced by allies defeated in Mogadishu and the strategic town of Balad, on the road north, which fell on Sunday.

"Some people have started fleeing Jowhar for fear of the fighting," Warsame said. "Most people are saying they have no option but to support whoever takes over Jowhar."

He said some warlord militia were leaving for Mogadishu after not being paid.

Islamic militiamen said their men, camped south of Jowhar, have been ordered to prevent planes from landing at the town's airstrip to block any escape by the warlords.

Political analysts say if the Islamic militia captures Jowhar, they will control most of the south of Somalia, raising questions about whether they will help install a weak interim government in the capital or set up a rival administration.

The government, too weak to enter Mogadishu, has been based in the provincial town of Baidoa since February.


Mogadishu resident Ali Abdikadir said a family member of a senior Islamic cleric told him they had a government in waiting.

"The day they take over Jowhar they will announce their government," Abdikadir said. "I don't think they plan to cooperate with the interim government. Some of them even said the government should surrender to the Islamic courts."

The Islamic victory dislodged warlords from Mogadishu for the first time since they ousted military ruler Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, but clan fighters vowed to reclaim lost ground.

Ali Nur, a warlord fighter, said a new war against the Islamic side would be waged by the Sa'ad clan of slain warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed. A disastrous attempt by U.S. troops to capture him in 1993 was depicted in the film "Black Hawk Down".

"We are strengthening our defences, digging trenches and putting up sand bags, preparing for war as a clan and not as the coalition," Nur said in a clan district of Mogadishu.

The United States said on Wednesday it might be open to dealing with the Islamic militia, possibly signalling a new approach to Somalia which Washington fears may become a base for terrorists.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington the administration would "reserve judgment" about the group.

"I think that as a matter of principle that we would look forward to working with groups or individuals who have an interest in a better, more peaceful, more stable, secure Somalia...who are also interested in fighting terrorism," he said when asked if Washington would deal with the militia.

President George W. Bush had expressed concern about Somalia, saying he wanted to ensure it did not become a safe haven for al Qaeda.

Washington, which has shied away from direct involvement since a humiliating 1994 exit of U.S. and U.N. troops, has refused to discuss reports that is funnelling $100,000 a month to warlords, but says it will support anyone fighting terrorism.

The chairman of the Mogadishu Islamic courts, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, appeared on Wednesday to back away from comments made at a rally in which he vowed to turn Somalia into an Islamic state.

"Socialism was tested as a way of ruling the world but failed, democracy has been tested and is failing, the only way now is to try Islam. But it's up to the people to decide," he told Reuters.
Web IntelligenceSummit.org
Webmasters: Intelligence, Homeland Security & Counter-Terrorism WebRing
Copyright © IHEC 2008. All rights reserved.       E-mail info@IntelligenceSummit.org