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ICC NOTE: The alarming part of this story is how fast the militia is moving through Somalia, without much resistance. Their goal is to establish a stronghold there as a fundamentalist Islamic state and the implications are deadly for those who are opposed to their rule including Christians.

Islamic militia pushes north for more gains in Somalia

Thu 1 Jun 2006

By Mohamed Ali Bile

MOGADISHU, June 1 (Reuters) – Islamic militia, who have expanded their control of Somalia’s capital in fighting that has killed some 330 people, pressed their campaign north of Mogadishu on Thursday in a bid to capture more territory.

The latest battleground in the third and fiercest bout of fighting since the turn of the year between militia linked to Islamic courts and a self-styled anti-terrorism coalition of warlords was near the town of Balad .

“It’s an open terrain, many must have been killed, but I don’t know how many have died and are wounded so far,” Ibrahim Mallim, a coalition militiaman, told Reuters by telephone.

Balad is controlled by a warlord from the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT).

Founded early this year, it is widely believed to have received funding from the U.S. government.

Although also fuelled by commercial and political motives, the fighting in and around Mogadishu is seen by many Somalis as a proxy war between Islamists and Washington. Residents say it has involved some of the worst violence ever seen in Mogadishu .

HARDLINE MUSLIM STATE

The warlords say the Islamic militia, grouped around sharia courts which keep a semblance of order in the otherwise anarchic capital, include al Qaeda-linked militants and want to establish a hardline Muslim state in the Horn of Africa nation.

Somalia has been without functioning government since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. A new interim government, the 14th bid to restore central authority since then, is based in a provincial town and has little power.

Coalition sources told Reuters Balad had been reinforced with about 30 “technicals” — pick-up trucks turned into battle wagons with fixed heavy guns — and 200 fighters.

Local residents were fleeing for their lives.

“We have to run before both sides enter,” one woman, Batulo Shiek, said by telephone from the town.

Mogadishu ‘s Islamic Courts chairman Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who this week told Reuters that CIA officers were regularly flying into Mogadishu to meet warlords, said on Thursday the courts had issued a formal rallying cry to Somalia ‘s 10 million people.