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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Iraqi Qaeda allies urge backing for Somali Islamists

DUBAI, Dec 28 (Reuters) - An al Qaeda-backed group in Iraq has urged Muslims to support Islamists in Somalia fleeing the capital Mogadishu under siege by Ethiopian and Somali government forces.

"In this great showdown, the Islamic State in Iraq calls on all Muslims to stand with their brothers in Somalia and support them with money, arms and men and to pray for their victory over the enemy," the so-called Islamic State in Iraq said in a statement dated Dec. 27 posted on the Internet.

"Muslim blood is being shed and their homes and villages are being destroyed and thousands of their women, children and elderly people are being displaced for no reason except being Muslims," it said.

The authenticity of the statement could not immediately be verified, but it was posted on a Web site used by al Qaeda-linked groups and other insurgents in Iraq.

The Islamic State in Iraq was declared in October by groups linked to al-Qaeda. It is led by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi who this month offered in another Internet statement to stop attacking U.S. forces if they withdrew from Iraq within a month and left their heavy weaponry behind.

A joint Ethiopian and Somali government force seized control of the main routes into Mogadishu and was poised to capture the capital on Thursday after the Islamists who had been in control left.

Ethiopia says the Islamists are supported by al Qaeda and its arch foe Eritrea. The Islamists say their support comes from the Somali people.

A leader of the Somalia Islamic Courts Council, which seized the capital from U.S.-backed warlords in June, said their leaders and troops had all withdrawn from Mogadishu and that the the city had descended into chaos. Witnesses reported looting and gunfire from late on Wednesday.

It was not clear if the statement was written before or after the withdrawal of the Islamists from Mogadishu.
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