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Friday, January 05, 2007

Al Qaeda urges Somali Islamists to attack Ethiopians

MOGADISHU, Jan 5 (Reuters) - A purported audio tape by al Qaeda's deputy leader urged Somali Islamists on Friday to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla campaign of suicide and other forms of attacks against Ethiopian forces in Somalia.

Ethiopian forces helped Somalia's interim government rout Islamists in a two-week war. The United States and Ethiopia have portrayed the Somalia Islamic Courts Council as linked to and even run by al Qaeda, a charge the Islamists have denied.

"You must ambush, mine, raid and (carry out) martyrdom campaigns so that you can wipe them out," Ayman al-Zawahri, deputy to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, said in his message to Somali Islamists.

"As happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the world's strongest power was defeated by the campaigns of the mujahideen troops going to heaven, so its slaves shall be defeated on the Muslim lands of Somalia," he said.

The tape was posted on a Web site used by militant Islamist groups. The authenticity of the tape could not be immediately verified by Reuters but correspondents familiar with Zawahri's voice believed it belonged to al Qaeda's deputy leader.

The Islamists, who took control of the Somali capital Mogadishu in June and had imposed sharia law across much of the south, abandoned the capital last week in the face of advancing Ethiopian and government forces.

They view Ethiopia as a hated and Christian-led foreign power intervening in their country.

On Thursday, gunmen attacked an oil tanker truck near Mogadishu, wounding three people and raising fears of a return to the clan violence that had largely stopped during six months of Islamist rule.

Just two days after at least one Ethiopian soldier was killed in an ambush in southern Somalia, a hand grenade was thrown at Ethiopian troops backing the interim government in the capital but no one was hurt in the incident, a resident said.


But in a boost for government efforts to pacify the chaotic Horn of Africa country after the two-week war that ousted the Islamists, Uganda said it was ready to send peacekeepers to Somalia as soon as its parliament approves the plan.

The U.S.-backed International Contact Group on Somalia was due to meet Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf in Nairobi on Friday to discuss ways of resolving the turmoil in his country.

Within hours of the Islamists leaving Mogadishu, militiamen loyal to warlords ousted in June reappeared at checkpoints in the city where they used to rob, rape and murder civilians. Their return showed how easily it could slide back into anarchy.

The interim government wants a foreign peacekeeping force, approved by the United Nations before the war, to be deployed as soon as possible. New U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Thursday for its quick deployment and welcomed Ethiopia's plan to pull it troops out of Somalia in a few weeks.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, meeting his Ethiopian counterpart Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa, said parliament had to approve the deployment of the battalion Kampala has offered.

But officials have expressed concerns about sending soldiers to Somalia, saying they need a clear mission and exit strategy.

Meles also met U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer.

"Our view is that Somalis should try and set up an inclusive government based on dialogue. The international community should support the Somalia initiative," he said.

The Ethiopian forces are helping Somali government troops hunt Islamist fighters who fled south from their last stronghold in the port of Kismayu on Monday, vowing to fight on.

The United States has deployed warships off the Somali coast to hunt fleeing Islamists and Kenya has declared its land border with Somalia closed.

This has left hundreds fleeing the fighting unable to cross over to seek refuge at camps, aid workers say.

Somalia has been in turmoil since 1991 when warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre. (Additional reporting by Lin Noueihed in Dubai, Guled Mohamed and Farrah Robleu in Mogadishu, Sahra Abdi in Kismayu, Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa, Noor Ali in Garissa and Marie-Louise Gumuchian and George Obulutsa in Nairobi)
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