June 8, 2006
Response to Fears of Extremism in Somalia
This column was posted today on Middle East Online. It’s an interesting read in response to recent reports about the struggle for power between the new Somali government, Islamic high court who want to oust the government in Baidoa and warlords who controlled large parts of the countryside for the 15 years that the government was in Tanzania. The US Dept. of State also has denied allegations by the Somali government (despite rumors of troops from Ethiopia–a US ally–surrounding the Somali border and providing assistance to the warlord alliance) that it’s trying to undermine the new government to prevent Somalia from becoming an Islamic state or imposing Sharia law. Happy Reading!
Somali Islamists denies any links to terrorism
NAIROBI – In their first diplomatic overture since seizing control of most of the lawless Somali capital Mogadishu this week, Islamic court leaders have denied any links to terrorism or radical anti-western Islam.
The chairman of Mogadishu’s 11 Islamic courts said in an open letter to diplomats that the movement is religious and not political in nature and that its armed wing was formed solely to combat rampant insecurity in the city.
“We share no objectives, goals or methods with groups that sponsor or support terrorism,” Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said in the letter, which was delivered to the diplomatic corps in the Kenyan capital on Tuesday.
A day earlier, Islamist militia claimed victory in the battle for Mogadishu after four months of bloody fighting with a US-backed warlord alliance that accuses the courts of harboring terrorists, including Al-Qaeda members.
The letter rejects those accusations and seeks to allay fears that Somalia may become a new Afghanistan under an African version of the Taliban militia.
“We wanted to inform the United States that our only agenda is to ensure peace and order in Mogadishu,” the official said. “If we achieve that, it would be easy to spread it across Somalia.”
“We are a group of peacemaking people who want to live in harmony,” the official said on condition of anonymity, adding that the courts had no intention of imposing Islamic law across the country unless the people wanted it.
“We have no such plans,” the official said. “Islam is the main religion here and our core values are guided by the Koran but we will not impose what people do not want. Everything will be based on the will of the people.”
Most Somalis are moderate Muslims who have little time for extremist elements but western intelligence agencies have warned for years that the anarchic nation could become a breeding ground for radical Islam.
Mogadishu’s Islamic courts have grown in influence in recent years as they have been able to restore a semblance of order to the city, which has been wracked by chaos under the rule of warlords for the past 15 years.
The rise of the courts, some members of which are believed to have links to Al-Qaeda, alarmed the warlords who in February formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) with US support.
US officials are convinced that at least three Al-Qaeda operatives blamed for the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and a 2002 attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya are now in Somalia.
Washington has never publicly confirmed or denied its support for the alliance but US officials have said they have given the warlords money and intelligence to help to rein in “creeping Talibanization” in Somalia.
Despite Tuesday’s letter, suspicions of the Islamists remain high as some top clerics have denounced the United States as an “enemy of Islam,” vowed to impose strict Sharia law and called for a war against “infidels.”