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Islamic Radicals On March In Somalia
Nairobi , Kenya, October 7, 2006 – Resting a hand on one of two pistols stuffed into his waistband, Aden Hashi Ayro, military commander of the Islamic movement that is advancing across Somalia, fits the part of a radical revolutionary perfectly.
Increasingly, as his forces seize town after town in southern Somalia, the once reclusive Mr. Ayro is taking a public role. His emergence is a signal that radicals in the movement are gaining the strength to put their anti-Western, antimodern stamp on Somalia.
Mr. Ayro, who is in his 30s and allegedly received al-Qaida training in Afghanistan, has been linked by United Nations officials to the murders of 16 people, including BBC journalist Kate Peyton. Counterterrorism officials also believe he was involved in plotting to blow up an Ethiopian airliner.
He has never been photographed and until recently was rarely seen in public. He stepped from the shadows last week in Kismayo, Somalia, to address hundreds of his fanatical gunmen who had just seized the strategic port without firing a shot.
Islamic forces have captured almost all of southern Somalia’s strategic and economic centers, making them the de facto authority in the nation and sidelining the virtually powerless Government.
The fighters are under a loose alliance of Islamic courts, some more radical in their interpretation of Koranic law than others. With the courts has come a semblance of order after 15 years of civil war but the strict and often severe interpretation of Islam espoused by some in the movement raises memories of Afghanistan’s Taliban. They have brought public floggings and executions of criminals to the capital, Mogadishu.
Western governments say it is too early to tell if the moderates in the Islamic council or hardliners like Mr. Ayro will emerge on top.
“There is an ostrich-like sense of denial here,” US-based counterterrorism expert Peter Pham said, adding that the moderates could not compete because the hardliners controlled the guns. “What we have here is a dangerously radical movement.”
Mr. Ayro potentially was the most dangerous of them, Mr. Pham said. He claimed Mr. Ayro was the courts’ go-between with al-Qaida and said the terrorist group was looking to take advantage of Somalia’s strategic location in Africa, bordering the Middle East.
Mr. Ayro had a much clearer link to international terror than the Islamic group’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, he said.
The US Government accuses Sheikh Aweys of links to al-Qaida. But analysts also say he is the only one who can avoid a disastrous war because he has enough military might to persuade more hardline elements, such as Mr. Ayro, to accept a power-sharing deal with Somalia’s cornered Government.
Mr. Ayro’s 3000 radical cadres, known as The Youth, appear to be spoiling for a fight. UN reports indicate that 200 anti-aircraft missiles were shipped into Somalia in March for the Islamic group despite an arms embargo.
Foreign Muslim fighters — reportedly from Chechnya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Eritrea — have joined the fray. In Kismayo, Mr. Ayro was the first official in the movement to acknowledge the long-rumored presence of foreign fighters.
Dahir Rayale Kahin, President of Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991, said the region was seeing a radicalization of the moderate, Sufi-inspired Islam that had dominated Somali culture for centuries.
Fanaticism may have been behind the assassination on September 17 of an Italian nun, a longtime medical worker in Somalia who was shot dead in Mogadishu.
A day later, Somalia saw its first car-bombing, a failed attempt on Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed, President of the transitional Government. The Government blames both attacks on Islamic radicals.
With or without the specter of Islamic extremism, the Horn of Africa is already a tinderbox. Tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea are simmering over a border conflict and have spilled over into Somalia. Ethiopia, with a big Muslim population, is fearful of a neighboring fundamentalist state.
Kenyan-based regional analyst Matt Bryden said: “I am afraid we are sliding towards a regional conflict with states lining up on different sides of the divide.”
Mr. Pham said that, without immediate international diplomacy, the radicals’ takeover of Somalia could prove as costly as the failure to deal with the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan.
“Failure to invest a small amount in stability and security in this country will reap a devastating cost later,” he said. “That is the lesson we have all learned from 9/11.”
Source: WST 'The West Australian'