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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 16:09 GMT
Somalia's role in terror
Anti-US demonstration in Mogadishu
Osama Bin Laden has some support in Mogadishu
BBC News Online looks at what lies behind the possible targeting of Somalia by the United States in its war on terror

Somalia is a collapsed state without an effective central government.

Because of this it is seen by the US as a potential refuge for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network as well as a potential sanctuary for terrorists and drug dealers.

The main focus of US concern has been alleged links between al-Qaeda and a group called al-Itihaad al-Islamiya - which means Islamic Unity.

Ethiopian forces
Ethiopia denies its troops launch raids into Somalia

This is a shadowy group founded in the late 1980s from Islamic groups opposed to Siad Barre's regime, which eventually fell in 1991.

The US believes al-Itahaad allowed al-Qaeda to use bases and other facilities in Somalia before the August 1998 attack on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Selaam.

It claims that al-Itahaad ran a number of military training camps including Ras Kamboni in southern Somalia near the Kenyan border and that Somalia was used as a conduit for al-Qaeda operations in other areas.

It also believes al-Itahaad had close links with the financial services' company, al-Barakaat, targeted by the US for alleged money laundering on behalf of al-Qaeda, a charge al-Barakaat officials have strongly denied.

Although former leaders are known, it is unclear what influence it still might have.

Government view

The interim government was set up at a conference in Djibouti last year and it controls most of Mogadishu and pockets in the rest of the country.

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3. Sudan: Attacked by US missiles in 98
4.Iraq: Threatened by President Bush

See also:
Detailed clickable map

It is backed by most of the Islamic courts of Mogadishu, some of which are thought to be influenced by al-Itahaad.

But it is opposed by a loose coalition of warlords who have set up a rival Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC).

There have been accusations by the warlords of meetings in Mogadishu between al-Qaeda representatives, leading figures in al-Itahaad and other Muslim organisations, and officials of the Transitional National Government (TNG).

President Abdulkassim Salat Hassan
President Salat denies harbouring terrorists

The TNG denies this, says al-Itahaad has no influence or bases any more and has consistently welcomed any US anti-terror investigations.

It has announced the arrest of terror suspects - presumably hoping this cooperation will help avert any American action.

Regional rivalry

There is though a clear struggle for power and influence going on involving Somalia's three neighbours, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Djibouti got in first by helping set up the transitional authority last year, much to Ethiopia's annoyance.

It is no surprise that most of the allegations against the TNG and al-Itahaad are coming from the warlords and their backer, Ethiopia.

The TNG in turn accuses the warlords and Ethiopia of opposing a legitimate government and backing terror themselves.

Ethiopian role

Ethiopia still regards al-Itahaad as a threat since it carried out a series of cross-border attacks and bombings in the mid 1990s in support of Ethiopian opposition movements in eastern Ethiopia.

Hussein Aideed
Ethiopia backs warlords such as Husayn Aideed

Ethiopia replied with its own incursions into Somalia, crushing al-Itahaad forces in Gedeo region in 1996/97.

It remains concerned at alleged links between al-Itahaad and the TNG.

Ethiopia argues that an effective government can only be achieved through another reconciliation conference, where it can ensure it has more of an influence than in Djibouti.


Somalia's other neighbour, Kenya, also wants a more effective government in Somalia which could stop the widespread smuggling of consumer items, as well as guns, into Kenya.

Kenya has been hosting reconciliation talks, but many of the warlords backed by Ethiopia have refused to attend.

Ethiopia and Kenya appear to disagree on who should organise the process, and without the intervention of a neutral party to host talks, little progress looks likely.

With so many competing interests at stake any engagement by the US in Somalia - whether military or not - is likely to significantly affect the politics of the region

See also:

20 Dec 01 | Europe
US chides German minister
13 Dec 01 | Africa
Somali 'terrorists return home'
27 Nov 01 | Africa
Somalia welcomes US troops
08 Nov 01 | Africa
Somali company 'not terrorist'
24 Sep 01 | Africa
UN pulls out of Somalia
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