Somali warlord says battle for Mogadishu not over
MOGADISHU, Somalia – One of the secular warlords who lost control of Somalia’s capital to an Islamic militia vowed Sunday that the battle for Mogadishu was not over – an ominous warning for a city devastated by years of bloodshed and anarchy.However, it was unclear how many fighters and weapons the defeated alliance had, and many of the U.S.-backed warlords remain in hiding.The threat came a day after Islamic fighters stopped showings of the World Cup soccer tournament, one of the first signs that the fundamentalist force now controlling nearly all of southern Somalia could install strict Islamic rule.Muse Sudi Yalahow said his group of secular warlords is regrouping to fight the Islamic militia, whom he accused of having ties to al-Qaida. U.S. officials have said they supported the warlords’ fight against Islamic leaders sheltering three al-Qaida leaders indicted in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.”The alliance will continue fighting until we win the war on terror. We will hand down the terrorists linked to al-Qaida,” Yalahow said in a telephone interview. “We will never surrender our arms.”The state of the secular alliance and how many weapons it has is not clear. Many members are in hiding after weeks of fighting with the Islamic militia killed at least 330 people, many of them civilians. Its leader was believed to be in Ethiopia seeking reinforcements.Two people were wounded Saturday as the militia, which is controlled by a group of religious court leaders, broke up World Cup viewing parties by firing in the air and cutting electricity to theaters. The vice chairman of the Islamic Courts Union, Sheikh Abdukadir Ali Omar, said that was a way to prevent “corrupting the children in this Muslim community.”The Islamic Courts Union is a fragile alliance of radical and moderate Muslim groups from different clans. On Saturday, its leader denied that he wanted to impose a Taliban-style government and said: “We will accept the views of the Somali people.”Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said no one in his organization had connections to al-Qaida.”American concerns are based on misconception,” he said. “They used to take information from warlords … Islamic courts do not harbor foreign terrorists.”But the episode left some residents wondering if the semblance of security that has returned to the city under the Islamic militia will come with a price.”As soon as the Islamists took over the security of our city, we thought we would get freedom,” said Adam Hashi-Ali, a teenager in Mogadishu. “But now they have been preventing us from watching the World Cup.”Most Somalis practice a relatively tolerant brand of Islam.Mogadishu, home to an estimated 1.2 million people, has degenerated into a looted shantytown since the last effective central government collapsed in 1991.Public buildings have been torn down. People chased from their homes live in improvised tents on the rubble.The few formal schools are too costly for most families, who send their children to local Islamic clerics for education, giving them little knowledge of the outside world.Identity is based on family and clan and few feel allegiance to the country.The warlords have been the steadiest source of income for many of Mogadishu’s young men, who labor as freelance gunmen for food and khat, a semi-narcotic, addictive plant. Some rob, rape and kill without fear of repercussion.The Islamic Courts have brought a semblance of justice and security and have raided bars, destroyed halls showing racy movies and imposed the death penalty for a variety of offenses.Most Somalis welcome the stability brought by the Islamic militants, but they also support the weak, U.N.-backed transitional government, which they call the best way to rejoin the international community and improve the country’s lot.Leaders from the Islamic Courts Union and the Transitional Federal Government have begun talks, but both sides have widely condemned each other in the past, raising a question mark over the outcome.The United States has not carried out direct action in Somalia since the deaths of 18 servicemen in a 1993 battle in Mogadishu depicted in the film “Black Hawk Down.”The fatal operation was part of a U.S. attempt to prop up a U.N.-backed government by taking out a powerful clan warlord.Vail, Colorado
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