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ASSIST News Service

Thursday, July 27, 2006


By Elizabeth Kendal

World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC)

MELBOURNE , AUSTRALIA (ANS) — As this is being written, the alliance of Islamist militias known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) which has taken control of Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia , is threatening jihad against Ethiopian armed forces that have crossed into Somalia to defend Somalia ‘s UN-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) holed up in the regional town of Baidoa . (For background and prayer needs, see: WEA Religious Liberty Prayer bulletin 386 at link 1.)

There is every indication that this confrontation, though presently paralysed, will soon break out into open war involving Ethiopia , Somalia and Eritrea . It will be both a conventional territorial war and a religious war. The conflict will doubtless attract a further influx of foreign jihadis and inflame Islamic zeal and identification amongst the region’s Muslims (and other traditional enemies of Ethiopia ), seriously impacting and escalating the already perilous situation faced by Christians in the Horn of Africa.



On 20 July, Stratfor Intelligence opined that when the ICU captured the regional town of Burhakaba, just 81km (37 miles) south of Baidoa, on 19 July, it was probably testing Ethiopia’s commitment to the TFG, testing to see how (or if) Ethiopia would respond to a potential attack on Baidoa. The Ethiopians responded by sending troops across the border on 20 July, in a convoy of over 100 trucks and armored vehicles, to defend Baidoa and the TFG.

Ethiopia , a predominantly Christian nation, has entered Somalia twice before, in 1993 and 1996, to put down Islamist groups seeking to establish a Sharia government. Ethiopia has concerns that an Islamist government in Somalia would foment increased agitation in Ethiopia ‘s already restive Ogaden region. (Ogaden, which borders Somalia , has a population of around four million mostly ethnic Somalis. Somalia invaded but failed to capture Ogaden in 1977-78. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF, a group of ethnic Somalis) is fighting for independence from Ethiopia .)

Also, Ethiopia already has one hostile neighbour in Eritrea . The last thing Ethiopia wants to have is two hostile neighbours co-operating with each other against it – possibly on two fronts, north and southeast. (Somaliland, which has an unrecognized but stable, democratic and secular government, is not hostile to Ethiopia , is fighting against terrorism and Islamism, and is also greatly threatened by the current situation in Southern Somalia .)

Baidoa is about 150 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of the Ethiopian border, and about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northwest of the Somali capital of Mogadishu . Ethiopia cannot extend past Baidoe without dangerously stretching its supply lines and risking a painful, Iraq-style conflict. The ICU meanwhile, cannot match the military force of the Eritrean Army – at least, not on its own. If the ICU is to engage the Ethiopian Armed Forces it would need to move thousands of militants out of Mogasdishu, north to fight at Baidoa, and the ICU can’t do that without leaving Mogadishu vulnerable to the warlords the ICU deposed. So for the time being, the opposing forces are paralysed in a stand-off. However, there is evidence that this may soon change, and that possibly the Islamists are preparing for a much wider conflict, beyond its borders.


J. Peter Pham (Ph.D) writes a regular “Strategic Interests” column for World Defense Review ( He is an expert in terrorism and political violence, and, according to his profile, “his research interests lie at the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.” He is particularly interested in the rise of militant Islamism is Sub-Saharan Africa and has been warning about the situation in Somalia for some time.

Dr Pham notes that the Somali Islamists, like the Taliban of Afghanistan, are reinforced by foreign jihadis, including Arabs, Afghans, Pakistanis, Kashmiris, Palestinians, and Syrians. He also notes that Somalia has long been a place a refuge and shelter for foreign terrorists and that while Sheikh Hassan Dahir ‘Aweys, the Chairman of the ICU’s majlis al-shura (or parliament) is a known, designated terrorist, he is only one of several high-profile terrorist leading the charge in Somalia.

According to Dr Pham, ICU military commander Adan Hashi ‘Ayro trained in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda before returning to Somalia after 9/11. Pham describes him as “a cold-blooded killer with a number of terrorist hits to his ‘credit’, including four foreign aid workers in Somaliland, ten former Somali military officers, and most spectacularly, Abdul Qadir Yahya Ali, the internationally-respected founder of the non-governmental Center for Research and Dialogue in Mogadishu , who was killed in front of his family last year.” Pham continues, “Another close collaborator of ‘Aweys is Hassan Turki, who was responsible for subversive activities in eastern Ethiopia and who is closely linked with al-Takfir wal-Hijra (‘Excommunication and Exodus’), a group so extreme that it considered Osama bin Laden too moderate and tried to kill the al-Qaeda leader in 1996 when he was living in Sudan.” (Link 2)

Dr Pham gives an ominous account of the weapons being stockpiled by the Somali Islamists. He says, “According to the Monitoring Group set up under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1407 embargoing arm shipments to the former Somalia, on March 5 of this year, the Islamists were shipped, via Eritrea, 200 boxes of Zu-23 anti-aircraft ammunition, 200 boxes of B-10 anti-tank ammunition, 200 boxes of DShK anti-aircraft ammunition, 200 boxes of Browning M2 50-caliber heavy machine gun ammunition, ammunition for the ZP-39 anti-aircraft gun, 50 rocket propelled grenade launchers, 50 light anti-armor weapons, 50 M-79 grenade launchers, and communications equipments to be mounted on ‘technicals’. This was followed two days later by a consignment of 1,000 short-version AK-47 automatic rifles, 1,000 pairs of binoculars, 1,000 remote-control bombs, 1,000 anti-personnel mines, and ammunition for 120mm mortars. To put this arsenal into context – and appreciate its offensive nature – none of the potential foes faced by the Islamists within Somalia use military aircraft or tanks.” (Link 2)

It is important to note that Sheikh Hassan Dahir ‘Aweys is a veteran of the 1977-78 Ogaden War for a Greater Somalia. During that war, Somali government forces, bolstered by large amounts of Soviet military aid, invaded Ogaden, captured much of it, but were unable to hold it and were eventually forced to retreat. BBC Monitoring reported recently that in a recent BBC Somali Service interview, Aweys voiced his support for the idea of Greater Somalia, by claiming Ethiopia-occupied Somali territory. (Link 3)

According to Reuters, “Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who is considered a moderate, told a gathering of ex-military officers, some of whom fought Ethiopia in [the] 1977-78 [Ogaden] conflict, to prepare for war. ‘You will be joined by the Islamic Courts militia in defending the country and our religion against our enemies,’ he said to chants of ‘God is great!'” (Link 4)


On Monday 24 July, Islamists told crowds rallying in a Mogadishu football stadium that God has commanded that they fight the Ethiopian troops. The demonstrators responded by setting fire to an Ethiopian flag to cries of “God is great!” (Link 5)

Also on 24 July a medium-sized Russian-built cargo plane with no recognizable markings landed in Somalia ‘s capital Mogadishu . Residents reported seeing large boxes unloaded. Reuters reports, “Onlookers and journalists were prevented from entering the area by hundreds of heavily-armed Islamist militiamen guarding the airport with dozens of battle-wagons.”

TFG Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Mohamed Hurre told Reuters, “The plane was carrying anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons donated by Eritrea to the Islamists”. An ICU official however, who asked not to be named, said that the plane was not carrying weapons, only “small sewing machines, which were a gift from a friendly country.” (Link 4)


Dr Pham’s most recent column (published 27 July) is entitled “Al Qaeda moves to Africa”, and should be read along with his earlier columns on Africa, especially “Militant Islamism’s Shadow Rises over Sub-Saharan Africa” (4 May).

Dr Pham got the title for this most recent column from a four-page article with the same name, “Al Qaeda moves to Africa “, by Abu Azzam al-Ansari, published in the June edition of the Saudi jihadi magazine Sada al-Jihad (Echo of Jihad). An English translation of that article can be found at link 6.