Somali Islamists say U.S. terror listing forges unity

21/03/2008 - 11:53

By Aweys Yusuf and Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Islamist insurgents in Somalia saytheir inclusion on a U.S. terrorism list will help recruitingand has spurred them to strengthen ties with other groupsblacklisted by Washington.

"We were not terrorists," rebel commander Mukhtar Ali Robowtold Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"But now we've been designated ... we have been forced toseek out and unite with any Muslims on the list against theUnited States," he said late on Thursday.

U.S. officials say Robow's al Shabaab, the militant wing ofa sharia courts group that ruled most of southern Somalia forthe second half of 2006, is closely affiliated with al Qaeda.

This week, the U.S. government designated it a terroristorganisation alongside groups like Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers,the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Somalia's Western-backed interim government and itsEthiopian military allies have faced an Iraq-style insurgencyof assassinations, grenade attacks and roadside bombings sincethey routed the Islamic courts group from the capital inDecember 2006.

It wants a fullscale U.N. peacekeeping mission to help itfend off the rebels and relieve an under-funded African Unionforce of just 2,600 soldiers from Uganda and Burundi.

The top U.N. envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, toldSecurity Council members on Thursday they had a clearresponsibility to get involved in a country where there werewidespread abuses of human rights and humanitarian law.

The council's 15 members agree things are dire, but manyare reluctant to send U.N. troops to a place of bitter memoriesof the "Black Hawk Down" battle in 1993 that effectivelywrecked a U.S.-U.N. peace mission.


Underlining the dangers, three local soldiers, a doctor andan 11-year-old girl died in violence in Mogadishu on Thursday.

Residents said the child was killed by a stray bullet,while the main anaesthetist at the SOS Children's Hospital diedwhen government troops opened fire on his car.

Rebel gunmen also briefly seized a government checkpointafter one battle near the capital's sprawling Bakara Market.

"A huge number of people supporting the insurgents thencame onto the streets shouting 'God is great' and smashing thesoldiers' small booths by the road," said witness Omar Ismail.

Washington says the Islamic courts hosted al Qaeda suspectswanted for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzaniain 1998, and it says many al Shabaab members trained and foughtwith Osama bin Laden's group in Afghanistan.

"We want to be very, very clear that this is not adesignation against opposition groups," LindaThomas-Greenfield, the United States' number two diplomat forAfrica, told Reuters.

"Al Shabaab has tried to conflate the anti-Ethiopian agendawith their terrorism agenda and it's very dangerous," she said.

"There are lots of people in Somalia who have a nationalistagenda ... and I think people are not aware of just how strongthe al Shabaab links with al Qaeda are."

When the sharia courts group was in power in Mogadishu,Washington focused on another leader it says has al Qaeda ties.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, now in exile in Eritrea, toldReuters the U.S. designation of al Shabaab was wrong.

"The Americans labelled me a terrorist and God knows thatwas a lie," he said. "I didn't do anything to them ... it's thehabit of Americans who found themselves rich and powerful andhanded the leadership of their country to crazy people."

(Additional reporting by Bryson Hull in Nairobi; Writing byDaniel Wallis; editing by Tim Pearce)

(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say onthe top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/)

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