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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Somalia "saddened" by AU peacekeepers' shelling of Mogadishu residential areas

The Somali government Friday said it was saddened by the shelling of residential areas by African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu which it said led to the death and injury of people and the further displacement of new returnees, according to local media reports.
The statement comes after two days of intense fighting between fighters of the insurgent group of Hezbul Islam, and peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) backing Somali government forces.

"We are saddened that AMISOM have bombed people who have now started to return to their homes and have restarted to flee again. We hope that would stop," Suleman Olad Roble, the Minister for Youth and Sports in the newly formed government of national unity, was quoted by Shebelle radio in Mogadishu as saying.

Roble also said in a news conference in Mogadishu that the peacekeepers have responsibility to protect the civilians instead of harming them.

The exchange of heavy artillery fire in residential areas early this week caused the death of nearly fifty people mostly civilians and the injury of almost a hundred others.

This is an unprecedented statement from the Somali government which relies mainly on the peacekeepers for its protection against armed insurgent groups opposed to its existence.

Roble said it was important that the Somali people reconcile among themselves so that "the African Union peacekeepers can go home."

The presence of the nearly 34,00 peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi has been a thorny issue for the new Somali government as influential local clerics have demanded that the government ask the troops to leave the country within 120 days.

Local clan elders have also asked the government to do the same while most opposition groups claimed one of their main reasons for continuing to fight is the presence of foreign forces in Somalia.

Officials of the new Somali government have been repeatedly saying that there would be no need for further foreign forces and those currently present would leave the country if all violence stopped and reconciliation among armed Somali factions has been realized.

Source: Xinhua

Videotaped murder probe not over yet

Two men, now free to resume lives put on hold after their arrests in the slaying of teenager Abdikiram Abdikiram 11 months ago, could face charges again with new evidence, police and attorneys said yesterday.

But they said once a prosecutor has charges withdrawn, the Crown risks a court battle if it tries to recharge a released person.

"They can do it, but the defence can apply to have it declared an abuse of process," an ex-prosecutor said.

Brendan Crawley, an attorney general's spokesman for Crowns, said the department would not comment on whether any withdrawn charges can be laid again.

Crown attorney Joe Callagham asked a judge Thursday to withdraw charges against two men and a woman accused of harbouring one of them.

"The evidence of the identity of the shooter and the evidence of the degree of participation of the second male are insufficient to pass the test at a preliminary hearing," he told the judge.

"The Crown has no reasonable prospect of conviction on the murder charge."

Owen Anthony Smith and Wendell Damian Cuff, both 25 and each charged with first-degree murder, were later released.

Their lawyers yesterday said the pair would not grant interviews.

Toronto Police spokesman Mark Pugash said investigators are "disappointed" by the decision. They felt they had a case that should go before the court and be judged on the evidence.

"If new information came forward, we'd look at it ... it might be useful," he said yesterday.

But while the file on Abdikiram's fatal shooting last March 14 in Lawrence Heights remains open, "there is no active investigation."

In the wake of complaints from members of the Somalian community that surveillance cameras are useless, Pugash said they have been the key to numerous past convictions, including of killers.

Some Somalian critics said they could not understand why a dramatic surveillance video of the shooter firing repeatedly at a group of young men while walking backwards was insufficient evidence.

But the image, released by police with an appeal for witnesses, shows the shooter in silhouette, plus two people fleeing -- one close to the killer -- the other a block away.

Investigators relied on Abdikiram's five wounded companions to testify, sources said. But Cuff's lawyer, John Struthers, told reporters "they were having difficulty with the witnesses. There is fear and people live by the code, not co-operating with police."

After 20 years in Canada, the victim's father, Ahmed Abdikarim Mohammed, said the family is so upset, it will return to Somalia.

IAN.ROBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA

Somali cartoonist draws death threats

This week, Canadians celebrate the freedom to read.

Every day, a Somali man living in Edmonton celebrates the freedom to draw.

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event in Canada raising awareness about freedom of expression, which we are guaranteed in this country. But Amin Amir doesn't need a designated week to remind him.

The visual artist, who has lived in Canada for nearly a decade, is famous in Somali circles around the globe for his political cartoons about Somalia. Satirical, poignant and often controversial, Amir's cartoons -- which he posts at Aminarts.com -- address issues facing his home country: political corruption, war, poverty, famine, murdered journalists and oppressed women. His website gets up to 10,000 hits a day.

In one cartoon, Amir depicts how an Islamic militia group undermines society despite its claims that it's helping the country. Al-Shabaab is portrayed as a bulldozer digging deep into the side of a cliff. Above the bulldozer, on a precariously thin strip of earth, Somalia's most vulnerable people -- women, children, the elderly -- struggle to survive. Most of the cartoons are in his native language, Somali.



Amir couldn't make this sort of art in Somalia. "They'd kill me," he says matter-of-factly.

"If he did this in Somalia, he's in serious trouble; we know that," Edmonton Somali community leader Mahamad Accord says. "He's criticizing through his artwork, and they (the people in power) are not happy about it.

"He won't survive there for a second."

Somalia's nine million people have been without an effective government since 1991. Famine, disease and fighting between rival warlords have led to the deaths of up to one million people.

Edmonton's Somali community, which numbers around 8,000, admires the artist for speaking out about the issues back home.

"He's a local hero. Everyone talks about him," Accord says.

Amir deals regularly with extremists who want him dead because of his cartoons. He gets anonymous threats as often as twice a week.

"They send me e-mails, 'We kill you, we know where you live,' " the artist says with the help of his daughter, Jija, who translates from Somali to English. "I'm not scared. If the (Somali) government does something bad, I want to tell people.

"I don't stop my cartoons. I'm still doing my job."

When he publishes a controversial cartoon, "the poor people like me" and "the bad people are not happy," he says. But "when the poor people are happy, I'm happy too, I'm satisfied."

Amir's wife, Zenaib Ibrahim, is proud, too. "My husband, he talks about the people who don't have a voice, who are poor."

Amir and his family left Somalia in 1992. The family moved to Canada in 2000 after a stint in Djibouti, settling in Montreal. They moved to Edmonton two years ago.

Thanks to the freedom of expression in Canada, Amir earns a living as an artist through his commercial website, along with contracts at various publications. He is also a painter and sells his works. In 2007, Amir was one of 18 Edmonton artists to win an Explorations Grant, a program established during the city's Cultural Capital Program. Amir's grant of $7,500 allowed him to create 30 oil paintings depicting the role of Somali women in family and society.

He is motivated to speak out on behalf of Somalia's most vulnerable citizens because they can't speak out themselves. "When bad things happen, the first people affected are women and children," he explains through Jija.

The cartoons hit home with Mayran Kalah, an Edmontonian who left Somalia in 1995. "When I see his (Amir's) pictures, I know exactly what he's talking about," she says. "As a woman, it touches me."

She says Amir's hard-hitting cartoons make Somalians laugh, but also remind those who have left their home country: "Don't forget."

When asked if he'll ever return to Somalia, he laughs and says "maybe later." Judging by his grin, and the sarcasm in his cartoons, it would seem that's a very big maybe.

"Freedom is good," he says.

ewithey@thejournal.canwest.com

Man charged with murder of Hassan Kul Hawadleh in Wealdstone

AN Ealing man has been charged with the murder of a Somali teenager in Wealdstone.

Hassan Kul Hawadleh, 19, was knifed to death on the forecourt of the Total petrol station in High Street on Thursday, February 19.

His murder shocked the local Somali community and came after a week of violent feuding in and around Wealdstone.

Andrew Spence, 21, of Freeland Court, Freeland Road, Ealing, is appearing at Brent Magistrates Court charged with Hassan's murder.

He has been charged today, and is also accused of the attempted murder of Abdulwahid Guled, 19, who was also stabbed in the petrol station attack, but survived the ordeal.

Source: Harrow Times

Somali government, Islamic group agree to truce

The government and an Islamic insurgent group have reached a cease-fire deal, Somalia's new president said on Saturday, days after dozens of civilians were killed in fighting in the Somali capital.

Elders of Mogadishu's dominant clan, the Hawiye, mediated between the government and the Islamic Party, one of two major insurgent groups in Somalia, said Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed. He said the negotiators did not meet face-to-face.

"We hope all differences will be solved peacefully," Ahmed told journalists at a news conference at the presidential palace in Mogadishu. The president declined to give any other details about the truce.

Islamic Party spokesman Sheik Muse Abdi Arale said his group respects the elders and things are moving in the right direction but he declined to give more details.

"Elders are making efforts to end the hostilities in Mogadishu and the sides have accepted and welcomed our effort," Ahmed Diriye Ali, one of the mediators, told The Associated Press.

Some of the worst fighting in Mogadishu has taken place in recent weeks. Islamist insurgents battled government and African Union troops for two consecutive days this week and the independent Elman Human Rights Organization said at least 49 civilians were killed.

Mogadishu has been the epicenter of violence in Somalia during the 18 years the country has been without an effective government.

The Islamic Party opposes the presence of AU troops in Somalia and has vowed to fight them until they leave the Horn of Africa nation.

The troops are also opposed by the hardline al-Shabab militia, which the U.S. State Department considers a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaida. The group denies this. Its officials were not available for comment Saturday.

The president said Saturday that his government has asked the AU peacekeeping force to keep away from residential areas when it makes any counteroffensives after coming under attack, "so that we can save civilian lives."

"AU troops are here to help us and once we restore order and can do without them, we will ask them to leave," Ahmed told journalists.

Calls to the AU peacekeeping force's spokesman went unanswered.

AU peacekeepers have a restricted mandate to guard key government installations in Mogadishu. Hardline groups, however, still view them as an occupying force. Until this week's fighting, the AU force had not been involved in fighting Islamic militants in the capital during battles that have killed thousands of civilians over the past two years.

Conflict-ridden Somalia is carved up into fiefdoms controlled by different militia groups — some led by clan warlords, others by Islamic leaders — who often form rapidly shifting alliances.

The government now directly controls only a few blocks of Mogadishu and the border town of El Berde. But Ahmed, a moderate Islamist who became president in January, has allies among the militias that control much of central and pockets of southern Somalia.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. They then turned on each other, plunging the nation of 7 million into anarchy and chaos.

Source: AP

U.N. urges Somalis overseas to back peace process

The United Nations urged Somalis living abroad to condemn violent insurgents and support President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed's new administration as it meets in Mogadishu for the first time on Saturday.

Ahmed is trying to form an inclusive unity government that will be the 15th attempt in 18 years to bring stability to the failed Horn of Africa state, which Washington fears could become a safe haven for extremists linked to al Qaeda.

Rebels including the hardline Islamist al Shabaab group attacked government forces and African Union (AU) peacekeepers on Tuesday and Wednesday, setting off the city's fiercest battles in weeks. More than 80 people, mostly civilians, were killed.

A local human rights group in Mogadishu said this week's clashes had uprooted some 17,000 people, and that 29 women and 12 children were among the dead.

In an open letter to the Somali diaspora, U.N. envoy Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said the return of ministers to Mogadishu proved progress towards peace was being made faster than most Somalis or the international community had dared hope.

"Please tell those wanting Somalia to remain a divided country at the bottom of the heap to stop and focus on the peace process, on themselves, on their families and people to whom they bring only misery," Ould-Abdallah said.

More than 16,000 civilians have been killed in Somalia's two-year-old insurgency, 1 million have been driven from their homes, more than a third of the population depend on aid, and large parts of the capital lie empty and ruined by shellfire.

Al Shabaab gained support as one of many rebel groups fighting Ethiopian troops propping up the previous government. An Ethiopian withdrawal in January placated some Somalis, but al Shabaab has now turned its fire on the small AU peacekeeping mission, AMISOM, and Ahmed's new government.

SUICIDE BOMBERS

Al Shabaab, which the United States has formally listed as a foreign terrorist organisation with close ties to al Qaeda, said on Saturday many youths had volunteered for suicide attacks on the 3,500-strong AU force of troops from Uganda and Burundi.

"We have many teenagers who are competing to be enlisted as suicide bombers. They are bravely ready to penetrate our enemy's weak defences," Shabaab said on its website www.kataaib.info.

"We promise any group that comes to violate our religion and land will return in bad health, God willing."

Two suicide bombings killed 11 peacekeepers from Burundi last weekend during an al Shabaab raid on an AMISOM base.

On Saturday, Ahmed told reporters in Mogadishu the AU troops would leave once Somalis had reached a comprehensive peace deal.

"There is no need for more bloodshed," he said. "We are all Muslims ... our priority is the implementation of sharia law."

Ould-Abdallah accused the insurgents of being jealous of Ahmed, a moderate former Islamist leader, and said they would not be allowed to continue killing and kidnapping at will.

"Previously they may have killed their compatriots and watched the international community simply organise a new conference to discuss Somalia again and again," he said.

"However this is the past. Your people, their friends and neighbours are tired of this endless bloodletting. They will not accept it anymore and nor will the international community." (additional reporting by Ibrahim Mohamed) (Writing by Daniel Wallis; editing by Richard Williams).

Source: Reuters

Editorial: A critical juncture for local Somalis

It had all the trappings of a typical community celebration -- colorful balloons, great food, happy families and easy conversation. But there was a tense undercurrent at Wednesday's open house at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.

On Monday, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Council on Foreign Relations that a Somali-American man from Minnesota, one of several suicide bombers in an October terrorist attack in Somalia, had apparently been indoctrinated and recruited by a militant group while living in Minneapolis.

Although Mueller didn't name Abubakar, Shirwa Ahmed, the first known suicide bomber with U.S. citizenship, attended the mosque -- as did other young Somali men who have disappeared from the Twin Cities in recent months, sparking speculation that they were recruited to fight in their country's civil war.

Leaders of the mosque have repeatedly denied any connection, and the open house was an attempt at transparency in the face of increasing news media and law enforcement scrutiny. Retaining that openness -- and developing a proactive relationship with federal authorities -- will be an important challenge for leaders of the growing Somali community in Minnesota.

This could be a critical turning point for the 25,000 or so people of Somali background who began arriving in the Twin Cities in large numbers in the 1990s. As they continue to work to demystify Islam in their adopted home, they must just as strongly denounce the dangerous extremism that apparently led Ahmed to drive a vehicle packed with explosives that killed as many as 30 people in Somalia.

Federal authorities have said Ahmed left the Twin Cities after being recruited by the Shabab, a militia linked to Al-Qaida that is warring against the Somali government. Several local families fear their sons have also been lured back to their homeland by terrorist groups. In a chilling story earlier this month, the Star Tribune's Richard Meryhew described the mysterious disappearance of 18-year-old Mustafa Ali, who fled his family's St. Paul apartment six months ago and never returned.

The stories of Ahmed and Ali -- along with growing problems with drugs, gangs and violent crime among Somalis in Minnesota -- were topics of conversation at the Abubakar open house. "I think the Somali community needs help more than ever now,'' said Abdulahi Farah, 27, a community outreach worker who came to the United States as an 11-year-old.

Minnesota remains a mostly tolerant, supportive home, but Farah knows that relationships built on hard work and trust over the past few decades are in jeopardy today. The soul-searching and community building in the Somali community is healthy. Parents whose sons have disappeared deserve answers, and Minnesotans need reassurance that the Twin Cities area is not a training ground for terror. It was encouraging to hear that leaders of the mosque have reached out to the FBI. For too long, many Somalis have feared the very law enforcement agencies that provide the safety and security they were seeking when they left east Africa.

Some of the clan loyalties that divided Somalis in Africa live on in Minnesota, making it especially difficult for authorities to build productive relationships. At the same time, Somali-Americans who have made great strides in building better lives in this country need local leaders who can unite the community in the face of growing fear and suspicion.

"We need more coming together and working together,'' Farah said as he surveyed the crowd at Wednesday's open house. "What affects one of us affects all of us.''

Source: Star Tribune.

New worry: Somali youth and Radical websites.

They turn to the Internet for religious advice, but fall prey to Shabab websites and radical views.

We have learned that Somali youth who are in search of a advice, or want to know more about what is happening in their country specially during the Ethiopian invasion or searching "pure" form of Islam have been turning to the Internet for answers — and along the way stumbles onto websites of Alshabab glorifying Jihad and suicides and videos, some of them slickly packaged with music and songs like MTV-style editing, that detail Somalis suffering under Ethiopian occupation.

Their anger stoked, their worldview becomes increasingly skewed as they links up with others in cyberspace who share their sentiments. Before long, they become convinced that they must support the cause of violent jihad, of Alshabab or holy war — and a full-fledged "extremism" is born.

In the immediate aftermath of 911 the main threat was from established terrorist networks — such as Al Qaeda and its allies, including the Al shabab.

Now, The FBI filed offices around the country, including those in Minneapolis, are increasingly concerned with the dangers of indoctrinated Somali youth who one of them blew himself up in Somalia. However there is also self-radicalization that we need to look at it too.

The urgency of the issue was underlined by FBI Director Muller He revealed in that, FBI is investigating the disappearance of dozens of young Somali Americans who authorities fear may have been recruited by a terrorist group. But some were radicalized what they found in Internet and Somali youths were found to be searching what Alshabab are doing in Somalia. The Shabab do their contacts and fund rising in recruitment and financing — all over the Internet.

And as the Center For Somali Solutions expert noted in their Press releases, the complex situation in Somalia need to be looked at. and Shabab and other extremist be pursued and eliminated. the authority must shut down their websites otherwise, we will not resolve this issues any time soon.

Ironically, the process of self-radicalization usually begins with the best of intentions on the individual's part. A young Amal Mohamed who works with the Center For Somali Solutions would say that. her and many of her friends turned to the Internet in their quest for religious knowledge and spiritual well-being.

We are In the era of open access to information, the idea of religious knowledge being regulated in a class is wishful thinking. While acknowledging the Somali' plight during the Ethiopian invasion. now we have a government led by Moderate Skikh Sharif. The Ethiopians are no longer in Somalia. now Al Shabab and other extremist is the enemy. Somali youth were attracted by Al Shabab and radical ideas purveyed in the mass media, particularly over the Internet. They had expressed sympathy with the cause of extremists to varying degrees. Therefore, we need to educate the youths. We need to tell them that it is not necessary for them to go and fight.

Source: American Chronicle

Minneapolis mosque invites the neighbors in

A Minneapolis mosque associated by law enforcement officials with a handful of missing Somali young men, answered its critics with an open house this week. Mosque representatives want to dispel any concerns by showing the revered religious center as an open environment that promotes messages of peace. Still, mosque officials are having to answer claims by high level officials that the mosque plays a role in recruiting the youth, who may have returned to Somalia to fight in various militarized factions vying for control of the country.

If it weren’t for the flowing hijab scarves, the shoeless television reporters and the piles of Somali flat bread sabiyaat , the event at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center would resemble and old fashioned ice cream social at a country Baptist church. Smiling mosque representatives greeted visitors at the door and guided them to mounds of food catered by a local restaurant. But it didn’t take long to get to the main reason for the gathering, to throw open the doors and show those usually outside the center’s walls the building is harmless and has nothing to hide.

Abdulahi Farah, Abubakar’s volunteer youth coordinator who coaches basketball and organizes other activities to give Somali youth a positive outlet for their spare time. He says the open house is meant to bridge a chasm of misunderstanding with the greater community.

“We want to reach out to the common Americans, the everyday Americans who are working hard, who are providing for their families,” Farah said. We share the same things with you. We pay taxes. We’re part of the community as much as any American is.”

Farah’s comments come after a cloud of controversy descended on the mosque when news accounts surfaced last fall linked the Islamic center to a handful of Somali immigrants from Minnesota who returned to fight in their home country. Farah says the mosque’s leaders are as concerned as anyone else if people with radical or violent intentions are in their midst.

“We have a challenge to the people who singled out the mosque to say OK you have something, bring it out, we want to know as well,” he said. We’re opening our doors to our neighbors, to everyone who has a question. We simply don’t teach those teachings here.”

Just when the mosque’s supporters think the controversy has died down, some new allegation surfaces to bring unwelcome scrutiny to this pillar of Minneapolis Somali life. This week FBI Director Robert Mueller asserted that the agency is convinced former Minneapolis resident Shirwa Ahmed was—in Mueller’s terms—“radicalized” in Minnesota before killing himself and many others in an explosion in a northern Somali town. The mosque’s leaders and a majority of the Minneapolis Somali population as a whole view such accusations as a backhanded attack on the mosque and those who attend there. Farah said Mueller and others should not jump to any conclusions about the young men who returned to Somalia and their connection to the mosque.

“If it was a crime for those individuals to come here, then every Somali person in this community is guilty as well because they come here and they make their prayers here,” Farah said.

His perspective is echoed by Jessica Zikri, a Muslim woman born and raised in Mankato, now a spokeswoman for the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

“When you hear comments like ‘radicalized’ you get this picture of a basement meeting place where there’s dark cell, closed doors, men scheming,” Zikri said. “When you come into the mosque and you see this is really an open environment. People are coming here to pray five times a day, once you meet people, talk to them, have food with them you start to see they’re just like everybody else.”

Mueller’s comments touched off a wave of verbal attacks on the mosque. The center’s representatives turned over phone message recordings to police in which anonymous callers accused mosque worshipers of being terrorists or inaccurately implying they are a drain on tax resources.

“I think you should pack up and all go home” one caller slurred into the phone. “We shouldn’t be supporting you people. You come over here and live off of us. You’re not Americans. Just go home. Please. You don’t belong here. You didn’t grow up here.”

The Abubakar’s open house appears to have made a significant amount of progress toward heading off such bigotry, at least for those who bothered to show up. Aisha Gomez who lives near the Phillips Neighborhood mosque, says she came to offer support and see for herself what goes on here.

“Once a community is the object of an investigation by the FBI—and I’d heard they’d been receiving threatening phone calls and stuff—I think it’s important for the neighbors to show up and that we’re, like, okay,” Gomez said.

Gomez also wanted to know if the mosque’s leaders were able to focus on rooting out any problems that they themselves identify as a departure from their teachings.

“I was kind of interested if there was anything else in particular being done in this community to address the problem, or if they were so busy defending themselves against these attacks they haven’t had time to address it, which to me would be tragic.”

Representatives of the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center organized the open house weeks before Mueller’s comments. If there’s a positive side to the controversy, they say it generated discussion and made for the most well-attended and diverse open house ever.

Source: Daily Planet

Somalia: Hawiye Elders Say They Continue Mediating Between Warring Sides in Mogadishu

Ahmed Dirie Ali, the spokesman of Hawiye traditional elders has said on Friday that they are continuing peace talks between the rival forces in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

Mr. Ahmed Dirie told Shabelle radio that they had contacted and met with all the rival sides who fought in Mogadishu for the last two days like ASMISOM, government soldiers and the Islamist insurgent forces of Hisbil Islam (Islamic party) saying that the peace talks are still going on and added that they expect to stop fighting to reach solution.

"We have contacted all the sides involving the fighting and the talks are still in the process and we are expecting to end the war because the fighting caused more civilian casualties. We also like the return of the displaced people of Somalia into their houses," Mr. Dirie said.

The statement Hawiye traditional elders spokesman Mr. Ahmed Dirie Ali comes as heavy fighting between government soldiers backing by AMISOM and Islamist insurgent fighters happened in the Somali capital Mogadishu over the past two days that killed more than 30 and injured about 200.

Source: AllAfrica.com

Somalia: Ban Ki-moon Calls for Somalis to Stop Fighting

the UN secretary general Mr. Ban Ki-moon who was visiting the capital city of Tanzania Darasalaam on Thursday called for the Somali people to stop the fighting and urged them to support the peace efforts for Somalia.

Mr. Ban Ki-moon wants to visit many countries in the African continent like South Africa, Congo, and Rwanda and flew to South Africa calling for the African countries to halt the fighting in the continent.

He said that all the violence continuing in Congo, Sudan and Somalia should be stopped as soon as possible specially Somalia which has been with out central government since 20 years suggesting that Somalia needs to get political support and security.

Mr. Ban Ki-moon is expected to open UN office in Zanzibar before flying to Egypt where he likes conclude his visiting trip in the African continent.

The visit of the UN secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon comes as most of the UN aid agencies expressed concern about the livelihood situation in Somalia and called for the international community to give Somalis billions of Dollars for urgent help.

Video of killing reveals no secrets

Despite outrage over Crown's decision, identity of shooter impossible to detect

Watch it a hundred times, in slow motion or frame by frame.

The real-time videotape of a brazen killing will not reveal its crucial details – the identity of the shooter.

Nor, in the year since Toronto homicide detectives posted this graphic footage on YouTube, have investigators been able to positively put a name to that shadowed face, though tens of thousands around the world have watched the cold-blooded slaying of 18-year-old Abdikarim Ahmed Abdikarim.

As a result, first-degree murder charges against two individuals were shockingly withdrawn yesterday morning by Crown attorney Joe Callaghan.



Neither of the accused – Owen Anthony Smith and Wendell Damian Cuff, both 26 – were in the Finch Ave. courtroom to hear that they were free men. A contract-related job slowdown by jail staff in Ontario that has for weeks played havoc with the transport of in-custody prisoners was to blame. Though court waited for half an hour, when word arrived that the defendants had yet to even leave their respective detention facilities, the lawyers went ahead with the principals in absentia.

On display, however, were failures of justice, police work and public contribution to investigations, all of which will likely further infuriate a city bloodied by gun violence.

There's a killer out there.

"After a thorough and careful analysis of all the available evidence in this case, including the video footage, I have concluded that the evidence of the identity of the shooter and the evidence of the degree of participation of the second male are insufficient to pass the test at a preliminary inquiry," Callaghan told the court.

"I am therefore of the view that there is not a reasonable prospect of conviction at this time."

The prelim had been scheduled to start April 6. The accused have spent the past 11 months in custody. The case is not being "actively" investigated, say police. The Crown has a year to reactivate the charges.

Two security cameras captured the brash murder last March 14 outside the Lawrence Heights housing complex. Footage shows two men in dark clothing briskly approaching the front of 87 Amaranth Ct., near the Yorkdale Mall, where Abdikarim and a group of friends were hanging out.

One of the men fires six shots, fanning his arm in a way that appeared to target each individual. Abdikarim – who, police said at the time, was an innocent victim with no gang links – was fatally struck in the head. Five others were hurt.

Police believe Smith was the shooter. He was arrested at a Keele St. apartment following a massive two-week manhunt. At his first court appearance, Smith's right eye was swollen shut.

Smith and Cuff, arrested earlier, were each charged with one count of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder. Jessica Marie Speranza, 23, of Richmond Hill, was charged with accessory after the fact of murder. That charge has also been withdrawn.

The startling development drew outrage from friends of the dead victim's family. Neither his parents nor siblings were in court.

"This is ridiculous," fumed Barlin Ali, who told reporters Abdikarim had been like a son to her.

"This is shame for the government of Canada. This is shame for the justice system. This is shame for the police officials who investigate. I feel very, very sad. I can't explain my sadness in this country. There's no justice in this country."

Mohammed Gilao, another friend of the family – he also lost his son to violence – suggested racism was somehow to blame for the frustrating outcome. The Abdikarim family hails from Somalia, immigrating to Canada two decades ago. The victim's father was one of Somalia's greatest soccer stars in the 1970s.

"The Somali community believes there has been discrimination," said Gilao. "We feel betrayed."

He did not accept that a lack of evidence was responsible. "No, no, no. That's crap. There's a video, it was televised around the world. It's very clear."

Except, it isn't, and lawyers for the two accused expressed admiration for the prosecution's actions in withdrawing charges. "I'm giving them all the credit in the world for doing the right thing and being very courageous," said John Struthers, who represents Cuff. "They could have just let the evidence go in front of a judge and have the judge throw it out for lack of evidence."

Struthers noted that his client – alleged to be the second man who walks into the video – is never shown shooting anybody. "He turns around and runs the other way."

Boris Bytensky went to Maplehurst Correctional Complex later in the day to retrieve his client, Smith, who emerged with a plastic packet of personal effects, pulling on a grey T-shirt as he walked to a chain-link gate and freedom, the Star's Jim Wilkes reported.

"Freedom is a must!" Smith shouted, as he proceeded to Bytensky's car.

"He's overwhelmed," said Bytensky. "He's extremely emotional and grateful that this day has come. He's very relieved and very happy to be going home."

Smith has never admitted to Bytensky or anyone else that he was the gunman that night. "He has always denied his involvement in this matter."

Without a formal finding of innocence, however, Bytensky said Smith will be continued to be viewed as guilty by many.

"The shooting itself has gone around the world. Mr. Smith's name has gone around the world. Hopefully, now it will be known around the world that he's the person who is not responsible for the shooting."

Source: Toronto Star

Communiqué: International Contact Group on Somalia

26 – 27 February 2009

Communiqué

Brussels - The 14th meeting of the International Contact Group (ICG) on Somalia was held under the chairmanship of the UN Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, 26 – 27 February, at the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels to discuss the situation in Somalia. The meeting was attended by the Somali Foreign Minister representing Somalia as a member.

The ICG welcomes the progress made since its meeting in New York in December 2008, specifically the creation of an enlarged and more inclusive Parliament, the extension of the transitional period, the election of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as the President and the appointment of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The ICG acknowledges and supports this new Somali-owned and led peace and reconciliation process


The ICG is pleased with the continued cooperation in support of this process among all partners. It reiterates its willingness to work closely with the new Somali Government. It also welcomes the fact that the Somali transitional institutions invite all Somali stakeholders from inside and outside Somalia to join the reconciliation process.


The ICG particularly welcomes the relocation of the Government and Parliamentarians to Mogadishu and their commitment to continuing the Djibouti Peace Process. The ICG sees this as an important step towards a functioning administration within Somalia. The ICG welcomes the pledges made to provide continued financial support to the Djibouti Process and to support key transitional institutions.


The ICG underlines the urgent need to provide tangible and coordinated support to address the agreed linked priorities of political, security, recovery, human rights and institution building issues for the next 100 days and beyond, not least to show clear, tangible benefits to the Somali people and to protect the political and financial investment already made by the international community. The ICG recognizes the importance of demonstrating progress on key tasks.


The ICG welcomes the commitment made by the Transitional Government of Somalia to introduce effective and accountable governance based on the outlined proposals presented at the meeting.


The ICG recognizes the need to consolidate and support the new Transitional Government to enable it to deliver minimum security, employment, and basic services.


The ICG recognizes the need for immediate support for the security sector in line with the Security Sector Framework, and welcomes funding pledged, in particular new and renewed support to AMISOM, the Somali Joint Security Force and the Somali Police Service. The ICG welcomes the commitment of UNDP to continue to act as the implementing agency in the development of an accountable civilian police force with a target of 10,000 civilian police to be achieved by the second quarter of 2010. The ICG recognises however that further funding will be required to follow on from these initial pledges in order to ensure sustainability of the process.


The ICG condemns in the strongest terms the recent attacks on AMISOM in which 12 Burundian peacekeepers were killed and 17 wounded as well as many civilians. It appreciates the continued commitment of AMISOM and its troop contributing countries performing under extremely difficult conditions and calls on all Somali parties to support those working to bring peace and stability to the country.



The ICG calls on all partners to work together to support and strengthen AMISOM. It took note of the establishment of a donor Trust Fund managed by the UN’s Department of Field Support Services as a mechanism to channel donations to AMISOM.


The ICG also emphasizes the need to establish mechanisms to address past atrocities by Somalis against Somalis as part of the Djibouti Peace Process. It notes that consultations on justice and reconciliation and on ending impunity are already underway.


The ICG supports the link between political, security and recovery programmes as mutually reinforcing pillars of the strategy that are vital in this new phase for the continuation of the process. The ICG recognizes the important role that the Diaspora can play in the positive development of Somalia and expresses concern about certain elements of the Diaspora that support spoilers to the peace process.


The ICG welcomes commitments to urgently support quick recovery initiatives, such as job creation, delivery of social services and livelihood activities which would have an immediate impact on the well being of Somalis, the security environment and future stability of Somalia through additional resources.


The ICG welcomes the undertaking by the Chair to provide regular updates to its members relating to six-month action plans developed in partnership with the Somali Transitional Government. ICG members agree to respond to these priorities as appropriate and in a timely manner.


The ICG thanks the European Commission for hosting the meeting. The Chair and former Co-Chairs agree to formulate plans for the next ICG meeting and a wider conference and revert to members.

Present

African Union, European Commission, European Union Council Secretariat, Presidency of European Union (Czech Republic), IGAD, League of Arab States, Organization of Islamic Conference, United Nations, World Bank, Canada, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Yemen.

Scan Eagle Scours The Somali Coast

One of the warships the U.S. sent to join Task Force 151, the international anti-piracy patrol off Somalia, is carrying a Scan Eagle UAV system. This has proved very valuable in patrolling a large area searching for pirate activity.
For the past five years, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have been using and perfecting this lightweight UAV, equipped with high resolution day and night video cameras. Scan Eagle was originally designed to assist for fishing boats finding schools of tuna. Over the last six years, these Scan Eagle UAVs have spent over 50,000 hours in the air, and flown nearly 5,000 sorties. About two thirds of this was for U.S. Marine Corps units. But the navy was also encouraged by its tests, enough so to equip the destroyer USS Mahan, with the UAV before the ship went off to join Task Force 151..

The ScanEagle UAV weighs 40 pounds, has a ten foot (three meter) wingspan and uses a new video technology (PixonVision), that provides greater resolution than other video cameras. This makes it easier for the UAV, flying over the ocean, to spot the small speed boats that the pirates use to stalk, attack and board merchant ships.

The ScanEagle can stay in the air for up to 15 hours per flight, and fly as high as 16,000 feet. The aircraft carries an optical system that is stabilized to keep the cameras focused on an object while the UAV moves. The UAV can operate at least a hundred kilometers from the ship its controller is on. The ScanEagle is launched from a catapult and landed via a wing hook that catches a rope hanging from a fifty foot pole. This makes it possible to operate the UAV from the helicopter pad on the stern (rear) of a warship. Each ScanEagle costs about $100,000, and is still widely used by commercial fishing, ocean survey and research ships.

Source: Strategypage.com

Al-Shabaab

Introduction

Al-Shabaab (aka the Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahidin, al-Shabab, Shabaab, the Youth, Mujahidin al-Shabaab Movement, Mujahideen Youth Movement, Mujahidin Youth Movement), is an Islamic organization that controls much of southern Somalia, excluding the capital, Mogadishu. It has waged an insurgency against Somalia's transitional government and its Ethiopian supporters since 2006. Originally the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union, the group that controlled Somalia prior to the country's invasion by Ethiopian forces, Shabaab leaders have claimed affiliation with al-Qaeda since 2007. Though most analysts believe Shabaab's organizational links to al-Qaeda are weak, in February 2008 the United States added the group to its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Shabaab's strength has growth since then, but many experts say the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia in January 2009 could diminish the group's basis for popular support.

Leadership and Divisions

Shabaab is nominally led by Sheikh Mohamed Mukhtar Abdirahman "Abu Zubeyr," though experts say a core group of senior leaders guide its actions. The group is divided into three geographical units: Bay and Bokool regions, led by Mukhtar Roobow "Abu Mansur," the group's spokesman; south-central Somalia and Mogadishu; and Puntland and Somaliland. A fourth unit, which controls the Juba Valley, is led by Hassan Abdillahi Hersi "Turki," who is not considered to be a member of Shabaab, but is closely aligned with it. These regional units "appear to operate independently of one another, and there is often evidence of friction between them," says a December 2008 UN Monitoring Group report.

Estimates of Shabaab's size vary, but analysts generally agree that the group contains several thousand fighters, many of whom are from the Hawiye clan. The group has been able to expand its footprint in Somalia with relatively small numbers for two reasons: Somalia hasn't had a central government since 1991; and many of the clan warlords that filled the power vacuum have proven willing to cooperate with Shabaab, at least in Somalia's south. Shabaab has engaged in forced recruitment among Somalis, so it's unclear how many members of the group truly believe the organization's ideology. Experts say the number of rank-and-file members is less important than the number of hardcore ideological believers, which could range between three hundred and eight hundred individuals. Foreign fighters have traveled to Somalia to fight with Shabaab, as have Somalis from the United Kingdom and the United States. The FBI says as many as two dozen Somalis have disappeared from Minneapolis in the past two years; FBI director Robert S. Mueller III says one of these individuals was a suicide bomber in an October 2008 attack in Somalia.

Some experts say there are deep divisions within Shabaab. In a February 2009 report for the Enough Project, Somalia expert Ken Menkhaus writes that, "The shabaab faces multiple internal divisions--over clan, leadership, tactics, and ideology--which a new unity government can exploit to convince parts of the shabaab to abandon the movement and gradually outmaneuver, marginalize, and defeat the core hardliners." Each unit of Shabaab is led by individuals who must combine their ideological aims with pragmatic considerations of different clan-based agendas. It's important to "focus on what they do, not what they say," writes Menkhaus.

Roland Marchal, senior research fellow of the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, says that reports of increasing divisions within Shabaab are overstated. They are "based on the assumption that they were once united," he notes. However, he says the organization must decide "to what extent they want to accommodate the Somali society and to what extent they want to keep the ideology they have developed."

Tactics and Motivations

Shabaab's tactics have evolved over time. When it began its insurgency in late 2006, it used classic guerrilla tactics--suicide bombings, shootings, and targeted assassinations--to oppose the Somali government and what it perceives as its allies, from aid groups to the Ethiopian military to African Union peacekeepers. Much of the violence was concentrated in Mogadishu; battles between the Ethiopian military and Shabaab in August 2007 caused roughly 400,000 people to flee the city.

In 2008, Shabaab began to reach out to the Somali public with a series of town visits. A December 2008 International Crisis Group report describes these outings as "well choreographed, with clerics addressing public rallies and holding talks with local clan elders." Shabaab would hand out food and money to the poor, give criminals quick trials with "mobile sharia courts," and attempt to settle local disputes. As the group sought to take control of towns in southern Somalia, it began to use political strategies as well. Before a particular town was captured, insurgents had meetings with local clan leaders to convince them that their intentions were good. By February 2009, Shabaab controlled most of southern Somalia, as depicted in this map by The Long War Journal. However, the group continued to launch suicide attacks. In February 2009, Shabaab killed eleven Burundian soldiers in the deadliest attack on AU peacekeepers since their deployment and engaged in heavy fighting that killed at least fifteen people in Mogadishu.

Experts say Shabaab's methods and ideologies aren't necessarily consistent with one another. According to Marchal of the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, "Shabaab has tried to evolve from a group that has a purely militaristic approach to a group that pretends to rule and wage jihad at the same time." On the one hand, the group espouses a strict form of Islam, Salafi/Wahhabism, and websites for the group claim to be waging jihad against infidels. On the other hand, Shabaab has extended its political power in southern Somalia through pragmatic means, not radicalism. It has imposed sharia law in some of the towns it controls, such as Baidoa, but "imposing the puritanical brand of Islam it espouses...would quickly alienate many Somalis," says the International Crisis Group report.

Links to al-Qaeda

When the United States placed Shabaab on its list of foreign terrorist organizations in February 2008, it claimed the group has an allegiance with al-Qaeda. Specifically, it said that senior Shabaab leaders trained in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda. Experts say there are links between individual Shabaab leaders and individual members of al-Qaeda, but any organizational linkage between the two groups is weak, if it exists at all (many experts note that al-Qaeda operates in a disaggregated manner--so linking self-proclaimed members of Shabaab to self-proclaimed members of al-Qaeda would not necessarily indicate that the two groups are coordinating with one another in a systemic way). There is evidence that foreign fighters have trained Shabaab members on the use of weapons and how to construct roadside bombs. But Marchal says many of these foreign fighters are not part of al-Qaeda.

The strongest tie between Shabaab and al-Qaeda seems to be ideological. In September 2008, a senior Shabaab leader released a video in which he pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and called for Muslim youth to come to Somalia. In February 2009, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's second-in-command, released a video that began by praising Shabaab's seizure of the Somali town of Baidoa. The group will "engage in Jihad against the American-made government in the same way they engaged in Jihad against the Ethiopians and the warlords before them," Zawahiri said. Though al-Qaeda appears to support Shabaab's jihad, it's unclear whether Shabaab has ambitions beyond Somalia. The December 2008 International Crisis Group reports labels the group a "self-radicalising movement, whose aims are local and national."

Future of the Organization

The withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia in January 2009 removed the group's principal adversary. Yet Shabaab continues to launch suicide attacks against the African Union peacekeepers in Somalia that often result in civilian casualties, which appeared to be the case in the February 2009 attack. As a result, public opinion might be turning against Shabaab. Some experts see early signs of this shift. First, clan-based militias have started to oppose Shabaab. In January 2009, militias repelled Shabaab's attempts to assert control in the central Somalia area of Galgadud. "There is a mobilization of various groupings of orthodox Sunni Muslims all over Somalia to form a broad front" against Shabaab, the International Crisis Group's Somalia observer told Voice of America in February 2009.

Looking ahead, there are several measures that will indicate Shabaab's level of strength and internal coherence: first, whether the group is able to extend its territorial control to Mogadishu; second, whether Somalia's business community decides to support the group; third, whether the Somali diaspora continues to fund Shabaab through the hawala money transfer system (it is not clear how much money Shabaab currently receives from the diaspora or other sources). Finally, analysts are closely watching the extent to which the Somali government led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed negotiates with Shabaab.

Experts strongly caution that there is little the United States can do to weaken Shabaab. The United States has launched air strikes to target high-level members of Shabaab it believes have links to al-Qaeda. But experts say these air strikes have only increased popular support for Shabaab. In fact, they argue that one of the only actions that could galvanize Shabaab and increase its support within Somalia is additional air strikes by the United States, or a return of Ethiopian troops.

Weigh in on this issue by emailing CFR.org.

Somalia: Stretching the World's Patience

Kigali — "I do not see why our soldiers have to die far from home in Somalia. We've had a long time civil war, but it has ended. Our soldiers have had enough of war and should be given a chance to relax".

"If they ( Somali's) do not want peace, the world should leave them alone," [This was a complaint a Burundian national aired when asked about his feelings after the death of 11 Burundian soldiers died in Mogadishu]

Somalia, the war ravaged Horn of Africa nation, has been in a state of chaos and anarchy since the fall of dictator Said Barre in 1991. In fact, Somalia has experienced one of the worst social, economic and political situations ever to occur in modern times.

Rather surprisingly however, is the fact that the country does not seem ready to embrace peace.

The recent death of 11 Burundian peacekeepers reminds the world the brutality with which the American Marines were killed in Mogadishu in 1990s. Since then, the US refused to send or get involved in any serious peace talks with the Somalia.

So, how much more of Somalis' brutality and abhorrence of peace should the world tolerate? Should the people of the country be left alone to sort out their own problems?

Getting the right answer to these questions are not easy, but de spite the apparent heartlessness of this opinion, I believe that its time the world left then to their own devices.

The people of Somalia have lived in a state of hopelessness for too long- just watch CNN, with its images of starving children, long enough and you'll come to hate Islamist militias and warlords causing all the trouble in Somalia.

They have caused bedlam; they are not ready to allow a government to establish itself so that sanity can be restored in the country.

These people are called terrorists in the West but I beg to differ. You cannot kill your own children, parents, relatives and friends and claim to be a terrorist- I believe that they are simply desperate people who have failed to calm down, come to their senses and end the political impasse in the country.

The existence of multiple militant groups, with their own agendas, further explains this impasse. Remember when Somali parliamentarians went to Nairobi, to negotiate peace and ended up political asylum seekers instead? That action angered the Kenyan government, which vowed to send them home by force.

"Although these people are in our hotels, and of course paying us money, I will have to order them out of the country. They have to go back to their country and serve the people of Somalia," said Kenyan Minister of Foreign Affairs, name while answering MP's queries about the presence of the Somali MPs.

The MPs decided to stay in Kenya after causing pandemonium by coming to blows after failing to agree on certain issues. Chairs, books, pens were used as weapons as the world watched in shock.

The implication is simple- they have run short of ideas and all the violence on display is simply a symptom of this. Professor Francis Imbuga, one of most renowned African writers, put it right in one of his books, 'Betrayal in The City' "that when the madness of the entire nation disturbs a solitary mind of a person, it is not enough to say that the man is mad".

It is therefore against such a heated background that the African Union made the brave decision to send peacekeepers.

This after leaving the Somali's to their won devices for years.

In fact, it wasn't until Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia, allegedly to check the Islamist threat, that the world's attention was focused on the nation again.

The well-armed Ethiopian army has already left the country, and the departures of these troops have compounded an already tragic situation.

The AU sent a force of 3,800, contributed from Burundi and Uganda to help settle the situation. This force, I believe was, and is, too slim to return sanity to the vast 'militia ridden nation.

The small size of the African force in the Somalia will always make it vulnerable to militia attacks, and unless it is increased, the two countries (Burundi and Uganda) will have to eventually withdraw their forces.

Two important things must be addressed. One: the size of the AU peacekeeping force, which must be increased.

And secondly, the real reason for other nation's reluctance to send their forces in the country.

All this must go hand in hand with availing enough resources for the present mission; that is, of course, if the world deems restoring sanity in Somalia as a priority.

Source: AllAfrica.co

Somali militant group triggers US terror concerns

As people crowded into the capital for Barack Obama's inaugural celebration, senior counterterrorism officials huddled in the White House situation room, frantically trying to unravel intelligence about a possible attack on Washington.

By Tuesday afternoon, as Obama took the oath of office, the threat of a terror plot by the Somalia-based al-Shabab organization had been debunked, but the flurry of activity underscored growing worries about this Islamic militant group.

"I think they are a serious problem, and I don't think that we should be glib and take it lightly," said Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for African Affairs. "Are they the ones that are going to plan the next major terrorist attack in the United States and carry it out? Probably not. But could they provide some of the foot soldiers for it? Yes."

The State Department considers al-Shabab a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaida, something the group denies. Al-Shabab, which means "The Youth," has been gaining ground as Somalia's Western-backed government crumbles. The group's goal is to establish an Islamic state in Somalia.

U.S. counterterrorism officials say they detect a disturbing pattern, one that mirrors al-Qaida methods and could spawn homegrown insurgents and suicide bombers in the U.S.

Counterterrorism officials suspect that al-Shabab is recruiting young men from Somali communities in Minnesota and other Midwestern states, luring them back to their home country for terror training and creating cells of fighters who could travel to other countries, including the United States, to launch attacks.

Four months ago, a young Somali man left Minneapolis to become a suicide bomber. He detonated a bomb he was wearing, one step in a series of coordinated attacks targeting a U.N. compound, the Ethiopian consulate and the presidential palace in Somaliland's capital, Hargeisa.

It was the first known time a U.S. citizen was a suicide bomber.

In response, the FBI stepped up efforts to reach out to community leaders in the Minneapolis area, where young Somali-American men have disappeared and are believed to have traveled to Somalia to fight with militants. FBI spokesman E.K. Wilson said that since the disappearances, the bureau has worked to expand relationships with community elders, religious leaders and others active in the local Somali population, which numbers about 80,000.

"We want them to come forward with concerns about their young people," Wilson said. "We share the same concerns. We want to help, and we need people with concerns to come forward with information."

U.S. officials aren't sure who is recruiting for al-Shabab, or whether recruits trained in Somalia have been returning to the United States. That uncertainty increased the concerns about the inaugural weekend intelligence reports. Counterterrorism officials described the time as tense as they faced a threat that appeared to grow in credibility as the hours passed.

At the National Counterterrorism Center in northern Virginia, law enforcement, intelligence and military authorities worked to dissect the threat, which emanated from a suspect in Uganda. At the White House, outgoing Bush administration officials and their incoming Obama counterparts monitored the situation while preparing for the presidential transition.

The most alarming aspect, said one former Bush official, was that they knew the inauguration would be a good target for any terrorist group, because of the huge crowds and political significance. And there already had been several cases that linked individuals, including Somalis, in the United States to terrorist acts in Somalia. Those included:

_ Daniel Maldonado, a New Hampshire native, trained at a terrorist camp in Somalia alongside al-Qaida members in efforts to help overthrow the Somali government. He was captured by Kenyan military while trying to flee Somalia and is serving a 10-year prison sentence in the U.S.

_ Rupert Shumpert, who was from Seattle, was indicted on counterfeit charges in a case that also concluded he spoke often in support for jihad. He fled the country and went to Somalia, where he was killed last year.

_ Shirwa Ahmed, a young Somali-American, left his family in Minnesota and blew himself up in one of the coordinated suicide bombings in Somalia last Oct. 29.

Whelan, who has been a senior policy adviser on African issues at the Pentagon for 14 years, said the al-Shabab threat is complex and evolving, potentially becoming more serious as al-Qaida or other Islamic ideologues try to make inroads into the Somali communities in the U.S.

"There has been a lot of movement back and forth (to Somalia) for a long time, and that leaves us open to the potential that weaknesses will be exploited by those that have jihadist aims," she said. "We need to be very careful because we have seen that we are internally vulnerable because of the Somali Diaspora."

Federal authorities won't say whether they've tracked any of the Somali youth returning to the U.S. after traveling to their homeland and receiving terror training. But FBI Director Robert Mueller expressed concern Monday about efforts to recruit Somali youth and asserted that the FBI believes others are being "radicalized."

In remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations, Mueller said it's particularly unfortunate that parents who came to the United States to escape violence in their home country would see their children drawn back into violence, calling it a perversion of the immigrant's story.

He said it "raises the question of whether these young men will one day come home, and, if so, what they might undertake here."

The al-Shabab threat also has attracted attention in Congress, where the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is planning to hold a hearing on the rise of al-Shabab.

Source: Associated Press

Somali Hip-Hop Artist, Iraqi Pianist Highlight Arabesque Festival

Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World

at the Kennedy Center


The festival continues through March 15. All events are at the Kennedy Center (2700 F St. NW; Metro: Foggy Bottom-GWU, with free shuttles) and are free unless otherwise noted. For information or tickets, visit http://www.kennedy-center.org

or call 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324. Performances are not listed if they are sold out.

"ROBA VECCHIA" Lebanese artist Lara Baladi intersperses fragments of her own work with photographs, creating a shifting kaleidoscopic effect. Terrace Gallery.

MULTIMEDIA "EXPLORATORIUM" A 3-D film exploring Arab contributions to global society during the Golden Age of Enlightenment. Atrium.

"YOUSSEF NABIL: CINEMA" Egyptian photographer Youssef Nabil's work, created especially for the Arabesque festival, celebrates the characters, celebrities and themes of sex and death that emerge when he views his life as a film. Grand Foyer.

SOUK (MARKET) A showcase of marketplace arts and handicrafts from the Arab world. Level A gift shop.

"AZZA FAHMY: INSPIRATIONS" Egyptian jeweler Azza Fahmy's work forges Arab tradition and contemporary innovation. Grand Foyer.

"HASSAN MASSOUDY: DESIRE TO TAKE WING" The Iraqi artist uses vibrant color and large stylized characters to display written language as both ancient and new. Hall of States.

"BREAKING THE VEILS: WOMEN ARTISTS FROM THE ISLAMIC WORLD" A multinational exhibition from the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts displaying the ascendant voice of women in the Islamic arts world. States Gallery.

"ILLUSTRATED POETRY: THE CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS" Calligraphy and illustrations by Kuwaiti artist Farah Behbehani illustrate mystical precepts of Islam. Family Theater lobby.

"BRIDES OF THE ARAB WORLD" A collection of wedding dresses, ranging from traditional to contemporary styles, from all 22 Arab League countries. Hall of Nations.

"SOUNDSCAPE: SOUK" Grammy Award-winning sound engineer Alaa El Kashef, from Egypt, captures the sounds of Cairo's bustling streets. States Gallery.

Today-Thursday

K'NAAN The Somali-born rapper took the last commercial flight out of that country in 1991 and has since become a force in the hip-hop world. Today at 6. Millennium Stage.

NAWAL: VOICE OF COMOROS The multi-instrumental singer-songwriter performs in her roots-based, acoustic style. Saturday at 6. Millennium Stage.

"MARRIED MAN ON VACATION" A man begins to truly appreciate his wife when she goes away on vacation in this performance by Algerian troupe Coopérative Théâtrale Hammou Boutlélis. Sunday at 6. Millennium Stage.

"REMEDIES FOR AN INJURED IRAQI SOUL" Sixteen-year-old Iraqi classical pianist Tami Meekoo performs canonical works by Bach, Schubert, Chopin and others. Monday at 6. Millennium Stage.

FARIDA AND THE IRAQI MAQAM ENSEMBLE & MALOUMA Maqam singer Farida performs in the traditional Iraqi style, using a succession of vocal parts and traditional Arab rhythms. Mauritanian vocalist Malouma also performs. Monday at 8. Eisenhower Theater. $18-$35.

"POP ART DUO PIANO" Juilliard-trained Lebanese pianist Rami Khalifé creates nontraditional compositions and improvisations. Tuesday at 6. Millennium Stage.

"B'NET HOUARIYAT: VOICES OF MARRAKECH" The five-piece all-female group B'net Houariyat reflects on the multiple facets of Islam and the female condition through music. Wednesday at 6. Millennium Stage.

"TEMPORAMENT" A duet by Egyptian dance troupe MA'AT for Contemporary Dance and percussionist Ahmad Compaoré portraying the struggles of women seeking cultural liberation. Wednesday at 7:30. Family Theater. $18.

"WOMEN WRITING MEN, MEN WRITING WOMEN" Various authors lead a panel discussion on the challenges of writing from the perspective of the opposite sex. Thursday at 1:30. Family Theater. Free, reservations required.

"MIGRATION, EXILE, AND THE SEARCH FOR IDENTITY" A panel discusses the traumas of exile and migration exemplified by the Palestinian diaspora and other Arab populations. Thursday at 4. Family Theater. Free, reservations required.

KINAN AZMEH AND ENSEMBLE The Juilliard-trained Syrian clarinetist navigates from jazz and classical to electronica and Arab music. Thursday at 6. Millennium Stage.


For video of the Arabesque festival, visit goingoutguide.com, and check next Friday's Weekend section for listings detailing the remainder of the festival.

Source: The Washington Post

Thousands of Somalis return to Mogadishu despite renewed fighting

Over 40,000 internally displaced persons have returned to Mogadishu in the last six weeks. The majority of the returnees are from Hiraan, Mudug, Galgaduud, Lower and Middle Shabelle in the southern and central regions, which are experiencing a combination of renewed conflict and severe drought.

Many IDPs are returning as complete families but others are heads of households who have left their relatives behind in the settlements for internally displaced while they check the conditions of their properties. They are returning to Hodan, Wardhiigleey, Yaaqshiid and Heliwaa neighbourhoods in north Mogadishu that were devastated by two years of war and left virtually empty. The displaced have lost everything and are returning to ruined homes and livelihoods.

The latest returns are taking place at time when Mogadishu is experiencing some of the heaviest fighting in recent months, resulting in many civilian causalities and renewed displacement. We are in the process of assessing the scale and magnitude of the latest displacement.

UNHCR is not encouraging returns to Mogadishu at this juncture, as the security situation is volatile and the conditions are certainly not conducive. Access to basic services in Mogadishu is limited, with very few international agencies present on the ground because of insecurity. Nevertheless, we are preparing to help returnees or those who wish to return in the near future, in the hope that the security situation will improve.

The total number of Somalis displaced within their own country is a staggering 1.3 million. Last year alone, some 100,000 Somalis sought refuge in the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen. The number of Somali refugees in asylum countries now stands at 438,000.

Source: UNHCR

Somalis stuck between rock and hard place

The UN refugee agency said Friday that about 40,000 displaced Somalis have returned to the war ravaged capital Mogadishu as the areas they sought refuge had become too violent and were being hit by drought.

'Somalis are between a rock and a hard place,' said William Spindler, a spokesman for UNHCR.

The UN warned that it was 'not encouraging returns to Mogadishu at this juncture, as the security situation is volatile and the conditions are certainly not conducive'.


The areas of Mogadishu to which they are returning have little or no basic services.


All countries have closed their borders to Somalia, aid groups said, with only Yemen excepting refugees, though the people would have to take perilous boat ride to get there and many do not survive. Several thousand still sneak into Kenya each week.


Jean-Sebastien Matte, an expert on Somalia with Medicins Sans Frontier (MSF), said that very few international aid workers, mostly from the Red Cross and his organisation, were present in the shattered east African nation due to the lack of security.


Last year, three MSF aid workers were killed in Somalia, forcing the group to slim down its physical presence in the country, though over 1,000 locals work directly or indirectly for the organization and the medical programmes it supports.


Hawa Abdi Dhiblawe, a Somalia doctor, and her daughter Deqa Mohamed Abdi, a surgeon, told reporters in Geneva that the medical system in the country was collapsed and they were in dire need of drugs and medical equipment, including diagnostic equipment and incubators for newborns.


'It is very difficult to watch babies die slowly because we have no incubator,' Deqa said.


Hawa, who started a small clinic in 1983 in one room, which has since grown into a hospital, blamed the international community for abandoning her country, saying that she has knocked on the door of major aid agencies but received little assistance.


Hawa has set up small scale job creation programme but said she lacks funds to expand it further.


'I can't enlarge the fishing groups, I can't enlarge the farming groups. I need investments,' she said, noting that the war in Somalia was 'between the hungry man and the angry man'.


'The problems come from within the society,' the doctor explained, adding that the solutions would also have to be Somali, rejecting the idea that international peacekeepers would help without a homegrown political answer to the problems which have kept a brutal civil war going for over 19 years.

Source: SmasHits.com

Gunmen seize cargo ship off Somalia

Armed gunmen hijacked a Japanese freighter and its 23-member crew off the coast of Somalia, South Korean officials said Sunday.

Also a Russian patrol ship was able to thwart a hijack attempt on a Saudi Arabian vessel, a spokesman said Sunday.

The 20,000-ton Japanese cargo ship was seized 96 miles (154 km) east of the Gulf of Aden on Saturday, the South Korean news agency Yonhap said, quoting the country's foreign ministry.

Among the crew members, five are South Korean and 18 are from the Philippines, the ministry said.

"It was not yet learned who the hijackers are and whether the crewmen are safe," the ministry official told Yonhap.

The Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, has become a treacherous stretch for ships, particularly along Somalia's coast.

According to Noel Choong of the International Maritime Bureau, which tracks piracy attacks, there have been more than 84 attacks and 33 successful hijackings off Somalia's coast this year.

The hijacking came as the Korean government is considering sending a warship to join those from some other countries to combat piracy in the area.

Meanwhile, a Russian naval spokesman confirmed reports that a Russian patrol ship thwarted the attempted seizure of a Saudi Arabian ship in the Gulf of Aden.

The spokesman said the Russian ship was escorting a convoy when a Saudi ship in the convoy was attacked by gunmen on speed boats. An anti-terror team from the Russian ship prevented the seizure and the gunmen fled, the spokesman said.

Source: CNN

Patrolling for Pirates off Somalia

Ensuring pirates don't interfere with the world sea trade off the coast of Somalia are HMS Northumberland and the EU anti-piracy task force. Identifying pirates in an area of operations spanning one million square miles though is no easy task.

Piracy in the region is a problem which has intensified since the Saudi supertanker MV Sirius Star was seized by Somali pirates last November.

An increasing number of the world's navies have been concerned about the pirates' audacity and, in December, the EU launched Operation ATALANTA, its first maritime operation to patrol and monitor the area and offer protection to shipping from similar attacks.

There are currently five European frigates and destroyers as well as support ships and air assets on station in the Somali basin. Under Op ATALANTA, this relatively light force is tasked with protecting shipping across a vast area.

Rear Admiral Philip Jones, Operations Commander for Op ATALANTA, said:

"The capture of the Sirius Star at the end of last year showed just how far off the coast these pirates can go, so the area of operations we're trying to look at for ATALANTA is about a million square miles - a huge amount of sea space. Clearly you can't police all of that with warships all of the time.

"What we're looking to do is firstly prioritise which are the highest threat areas - where we're most likely to see pirate attack - and secondly to synchronise our efforts with a whole range of other naval forces that are in the region."

Although the task force is there to protect all shipping, escorting aid under the World Food Programme is the primary purpose of the EU mission.

Lieutenant Commander Eric Aujean is the World Food Programme Liaison Officer for the task force:

"The main task of Operation ATALANTA is the protection and the escort of the World Food Programme chartered ships which bring food into Somalia," he said.

"Somalia is extremely dependent on this help. They have had several attacks on their ships before 2007. So, since [then] several countries or organisations have been trying to provide some help and to escort their ships."

Earlier this month HMS Northumberland safely escorted three World Food Programme ships into the Somali ports of Mogadishu, Bossassoo and Berbera without incident, but Lt Cdr Jaern Ruhmann of the ATALANTA Ops Room says the threat of piracy remains a very real one:

"They've got skiffs, they've got good equipment and they have obviously a good situational awareness as to what's going on," he said.

Lt Cdr Nick Gibbons, also part of the Operations team, added:

"[The pirate]'s success is through the fact that it's not overly-sophisticated so it's difficult to identify. So a small potential fishing boat with four or five people on it could one day be fishing, but tomorrow could be climbing on board a 300,000 tonne tanker - and that's the difficulty with the operation; that you just can't identify the enemy who's out there."

The Sirius Star was released in January following the payment of a $3m ransom dropped in by jet plane. With its cargo of two million barrels of crude oil, the ship was a potent reminder of why the international community is especially anxious to crack down on the pirates' lucrative line of business:

"The Gulf of Aden is a hugely significant global sea lane," said RAdm Jones. "About 25,000 ships a year pass through that sea lane carrying a very significant percentage of the world's trade and, of course, a lot of the world's oil. So it is of huge interest to a whole range of global trading nations to keep those sea lanes clear and to make sure the pirates can't interrupt that traffic."

Operation ATALANTA is just one part of the anti-piracy picture and, while the EU is performing well so far, all those involved recognise that long-term success will depend on the ability to find a political solution in Somalia which has so far proved elusive.

Source: MoD News

Friday, February 27, 2009

Mpls. mosque opens its doors to neighbors

A Minneapolis mosque ensnared in a controversy over missing Somali men is opening its doors to neighbors to bolster its image in the community.

The Abubakar As-Saddique (ah-boo-bah-kar ah-sah-dee-kee) Islamic Center is holding an open house and community dinner Wednesday night. It drew a large crowd of neighbors, local politicians, police officers and media who mingled with the center's Somali regulars.

Leaders of the center say despite allegations, they played no role in the departure of some young Somali men who traveled to Somalia to fight in the country's civil war.

Source: MSNBC

AMISOM, Somali gunmen struggle kills 8

A gun battle between Somali armed men and African Union forces in the capital, Mogadishu has killed eight civilians, injuring 23 others.

The battle broke out in Mogadishu's Hodon district after gunmen attacked the base housing the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a Press TV correspondent reported.

The injured were rushed to the capital's Medina hospital.

Somali insurgents have vowed to continue their assaults against the AMISOM troops until the forces withdraw from Somalia.

The country's clerics, meanwhile, condemned the attacks that caused considerable collateral damage.

The gunmen also targeted soldiers loyal to Somalia's new government despite widespread popular support from major Somali factions for the newly-elected President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

Source: Press TV

European Meeting on Somalia Opens

A meeting hosted by the European Commission on Somalia's peace process has opened in Brussels. The meeting follows two days of heavy fighting in Mogadishu, which have threatened the efforts of the country's new president to reestablish government control in the capital.

The meeting of the International Contact Group on Somalia, which brings together the major donors and diplomatic players involved in the country, comes at a time of high hopes for Somalia, following the selection of a moderate former Islamist and former insurgent, Sharif Sheik Ahmed, as president at the end of January.

But the meeting, which focuses on the peace process and security in the country, also follows two days of fighting between government forces and hardline insurgents, the worst the country has seen since Ethiopian forces withdrew from the country last month.

The European Commissioner for Development, Louis Michel, said he believes most Somalis support the political process.

"Today we are at the crossroads," Michel said. "Either we go forward with the new government and support its actions or we must be ready to fail once again. I think we have no other reasonable choice but to resolutely take the first option."

President Sharif was selected by Somalia's parliament as the new president after his opposition faction signed an agreement with the government last year, part of U.N.-backed peace negotiations taking place in Djibouti.

President Sharif has reached out to harder-line elements of the opposition, and has succeeded in bringing some of them on board. Many observers are hopeful that with the Ethiopian troops, who were widely seen as occupiers, out of the country, the insurgents have lost a major rallying cry.

But the violence in Mogadishu this week, which has killed dozens and injured hundreds, shows that for now, some factions are determined to carry on with the insurgency.

The U.N. Special Representative for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah condemned the latest violence.

"There are no more Ethiopian troops. It is Somalis killing Somalis, and I will not relay that as resistance. It is criminality," he said.

Somali leaders, including clan elders, Islamic scholars, and a growing number of Islamist fighters, have also criticized the recent attacks.

Following President Sharif's return to the country on Monday, other government officials have also arrived, including Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the son of Somalia's last democratically-elected president. Members of parliament have also begun to return. Lawmakers have been in exile in Djibouti since the Shabab militia captured the former seat of parliament, Baidoa.

On Wednesday, the Shabab also captured the town of Hudur in the northwest, near the border with Ethiopia, after battling government troops.

The meeting in Brussels brings together representatives from the European Union, the United States, the African Union, the United Nations, and the World Bank, among others.

Source: VOA

New Somali premier calls for end to bloodshed

Somalia's new prime minister returned to Mogadishu on Thursday for the first time since his appointment and called for an end to fighting that has killed more than 80 people since Tuesday.

Sporadic shooting could be heard as Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the Western-educated son of an assassinated former president, landed in the capital.

"I am very happy to return after a decade. This is my motherland. Our main priority is providing better security," he told reporters at the city's heavily guarded airport.

"I am asking Somalis to avoid shedding any more blood."

This week's fierce artillery and machine gun battles pitted Islamist insurgents, including the hardline al Shabaab group, against government forces and a small African Union peacekeeping mission of troops from Uganda and Burundi.

More than 16,000 civilians have been killed in the two-year-old insurgency, one million people have been driven from their homes, more than a third of the population depend on aid, and large parts of Mogadishu lie empty and destroyed.

The latest violence flared just days after new President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed returned to Mogadishu to try to form an inclusive unity government -- the 15th attempt in 18 years to bring peace to the failed Horn of Africa state.



MOGADISHU MEETING PLANNED

Speaking in Brussels after a meeting of the International Contact Group -- a multi-nation group trying to broker peace in Somalia -- his new foreign minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar, said the fighting should not be seen out of context.

"Any peace process is never 100 percent within five days. This government is only five days old," he told reporters.

"It's very essential that one incident in one locality ... is not put out of context ... Somalia is bigger geographically than the United Kingdom."

Omaar said the new cabinet would hold its first meeting in Mogadishu this weekend, and priorities for the first three months were to establish a base in the city, set up functioning ministries and put in place a "serious" peace process.

Al Shabaab gained support as one of many insurgent groups waging war against Ethiopian troops propping up the previous government. An Ethiopian withdrawal in January placated some Somalis, but al Shabaab has now turned its fire on the AU peacekeeping force, AMISOM, and Ahmed's fledgling government.

Aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Thursday its doctors had treated 121 people during a 24-hour period between Tuesday and Wednesday at a clinic in the capital.

It said 47 of them were women and children under 14, showing that civilians were paying a heavy price for the fighting. All their wounds were caused by explosions and fire arms, it added.

Source: Reuters

Somali rebels nearing Ethiopia

The town of Hodur, about 300 km away from north-east Mogadishu, close to the Ethiopian border, has fallen into the hands of the malicious shebab rebels, an islamist group with connections to Al-Qaeda, the BBC reported Thursday. According to the report, some 20 persons were killed in the offensive. The islamist group now controls a large part of the southern parts of the Somali territory. This includes, the ports of Kismayo and Merka.

Source: BBC

Italian nuns say Somali extremists kidnapped them

Italian nuns held captive in the Somali capital for more than two months "prayed all the time" but said they were well treated by kidnappers who identified themselves as being hardline Somali Islamic militants.

In a rare cross-border kidnapping, Maria Teresa Olivero, 60, and Caterina Giraudo, 67, were seized from the remote northeastern Kenya town of El Wak on Nov. 10. They then were driven to the Somali capital of Mogadishu, where they were kept under guard until Feb. 19.

On Thursday, they gave their first news conference since they were freed.

Olivero and Giraudo said they ate "good food." But since they had no contact with outside world, they spent a lot of time in prayer and read a Bible that the Islamic militiamen took from the pocket of a dead Ethiopian soldier.

"It was very hard. We didn't have news, we didn't know anything," Olivero said, adding the only thing to listen to was Somali radio stations.

"We prayed all the time ... just to get strength from God, to not lose hope," said Giraudo. She said her little knowledge of Somali helped them establish a rapport with their captors.

"They told us who they were, al-Shabab. They showed us a photo of (Osama) bin Laden," Olivero said.

The U.S. State Department considers al-Shabab a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaida, something the group has denied.

Kenya and Italy shared intelligence to help secure the release of the nuns, diplomats said, but declined to give details of the negotiations or how the nuns were freed.

Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula described the negotiations as "very hard and protracted." He said no ransom was paid.

"We are very happy and excited the two nuns have been released," Wetangula said. He said Kenya was stepping up border security to improve the safety of people there. But the flat arid terrain makes it easy for people to cross the 1,200-kilometer (746-mile) border with Somalia even though it has been closed for two years, he said.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a socialist dictator. They then turned on each other, plunging the Horn of Africa nation into anarchy and chaos.

Militiamen came in the middle of the night of Nov. 9-10 and shot up the door of the house and took them away, Olivero said, adding the nuns narrowly escaped death "because they fired everywhere."

They walked for 15 minutes, got into all-terrain vehicles and drove for five days to Mogadishu, she said.

Witnesses said the nuns were driven to the border in a convoy of three stolen vehicles after six gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons, hurled a grenade and fired a rocket at Kenyan police.

When they arrived in Mogadishu the militiamen gave them each a long dress to change into and a body-length burqa to cover themselves. The kidnappers changed their hideouts a few times but the women were always put in a clean room with two mattresses, Olivero said.

Then on Feb. 19, an hour before their release, they were told they would be freed.

"It was a joyful moment," Olivero said.

Some time later Kenya's foreign affairs minister received a message on his mobile phone from the Italian ambassador: "We have good news."

The nuns have been staying at the Italian ambassador's house in Nairobi since their release.

Source: AP

Thieves use cat to trigger Somaliland stampede

Thieves caused chaos outside a Somaliland mosque late on Thursday when they took advantage of a power cut to throw a stray cat into the crowd, triggering a stampede so they could rob worshippers.

Source: Reuters

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fears Somali-Americans being recruited for terrorism

In the United States the FBI is investigating the disappearance of dozens of young Somali Americans who authorities fear may have been recruited by a terrorist group.

The FBI believes one of the men was responsible for a bombing in Somalia last year - the first known suicide attack by a US citizen.

Washington correspondent Kim Landers reports.

KIM LANDERS: Just hours before Barack Obama took the oath of office last month, the FBI got word of a possible terrorist attack. The threat was linked to a Somali militia group called Al Shabab, or 'The Youth', which is suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda.

Nothing happened but the FBI believes the same group is recruiting young Somali-American men and FBI director Robert Mueller says that one of them has become the first US citizen to carry out a suicide bombing, which killed 30 people.

ROBERT MUELLER: A man from Minneapolis became what we believe to be the first US citizen to carry out a terrorist suicide bombing. The attack occurred last October in northern Somalia. But it appears that this individual was radicalised here in the United States in his hometown in Minnesota.

KIM LANDERS: About 40,000 Somalis live in the state of Minnesota, many in the twin cities of Minneapolis/St Paul. In the past year about two-dozen young men have disappeared and the FBI is worried that they're training in Somalia and could return to the US to launch an attack.

ROBERT MUELLER: The parents of many of these young men risked everything to come to America to provide their children with a brighter, more stable future. And for these parents to leave a war-torn country only to find their children have been convinced to return to that way of life is indeed heartbreaking and it raises the question of whether these young men will one day come home and if so, what might they undertake here.

KIM LANDERS: A Minneapolis mosque has strongly rebuffed rumours its leaders are connected to the disappearances. Osman Ahmed is the uncle of 17-year-old Burhan Hassan who vanished on election day and is now understood to be in Somalia. He says the leaders of the mosque have to be held accountable.

OSMAN AHMED: They have youth programs. Before we trusted those youth programs. Now we are questioning about what they're teaching the kids.

KIM LANDERS: Ibrahim Hooper is a spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations. He says the FBI director should visit the twin cities to help clear the air.

IBRAHIM HOOPER: We're concerned that the remarks, just as they are, tend to stigmatise the entire Somali Muslim community in Minnesota and you know can just create more fear and apprehension.

KIM LANDERS: The body of the Somali-American man involved in last year's suicide bombing has been returned to Minnesota with the help of the FBI.

Source: ABC

Clerics Condemn Somali Insurgents for Violating Islam

Somali Islamic scholars have condemned Islamist insurgents for launching an attack on pro-government forces and African Union peacekeepers Tuesday in Mogadishu. The fighting is the heaviest of its kind since Ethiopian troops withdrew from Somalia last month.

The cleric representing moderate Islamic scholars, Sheik Bashir Ahmed Salad, criticized the Islamic Party, a newly-formed hard-line opposition faction, for starting two days of violence that killed and wounded scores of civilians.

The cleric said the fighting violated the religion of Islam by harming innocent people. He said those who launched the attack will be held accountable for the bloodshed.

The Islamic Party, an alliance of four opposition factions led by the Asmara-wing of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, took responsibility for the attack. The Islamic Party is an ally of Somalia's most militant Islamist fighting force, al-Shabab. Earlier this month, the Islamic scholars denounced al-Shabab for killing scores of aid workers and civilians in recent years.

Both al-Shabab and the Islamic Party have rejected the U.N.-backed unity government of moderate Islamist President Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who was elected by an expanded Somali parliament a month ago to help unify Somalis and bring stability to the country for the first time in 18 years.

While Islamic scholars and many ordinary citizens have cheered President Sharif's election, the Somali leader is facing the challenge of trying to balance the demands of his Islamist-supporter base, who want him to impose Islamic law in Somalia, and the demands of regional and western governments that want him to keep the unity government inclusive but secular.

President Sharif is also facing a dilemma on whether to support or reject the Islamic scholars' demand for the African Union to withdraw 3,500 peacekeeping troops from Somalia within the next four months. On Wednesday, Sheik Bashir Ahmed Salad again said it is imperative for the peacekeeping force to leave Somalia.

The scholars' hard-line stance against foreign peacekeepers and their demand for Islamic law in Somalia prompted at least one al-Shabab leader to question whether the militant group, listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, could maintain popular support if the African Union troops left.

In a surprise interview with reporters in Mogadishu, Mohamed Kofi, an al-Shabab spiritual leader close to one of the al-Qaida-trained founders of the group, said he supports the Islamic scholars and what they have asked of the Somali president.

Kofi said it is not right to oppose the Islamic scholars, whom he said have made good decisions and have the support of the Somali people.

Al-Shabab gained numerous recruits and won vast amounts of territory during its two year insurgency against Ethiopia and the government it protected. Since the departure of Ethiopian troops and the election of an Islamist leader to head the government, al-Shabab has focused its attacks on the African Union peacekeeping force known as AMISOM.

Somalis say it is likely that the Islamic scholars are hoping that the departure of AMISOM troops will drain popular support from al-Shabab and give President Sharif a chance to consolidate the government under moderate Islamist rule.

Source: VOA

Somalia: Al-Islah Calls for Somalis to Stop Fighting

Sheik Abdirahman Mo'allin Ali, the spokesman of the Islamic Organization of Al-islah has Wednesday called for the warring sides to stop the fighting which is going on in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

Sheik Abdirahman who is in the Kenyan capital Nairobi suggested for both warring sides to end their differences through dialogue saying to exchange weapon is better that to talk to gather to reach peace and solution.

"It is very important to support the peace process going on in Mogadishu and it is wrong to look the bleeding civilians of Somalia. So we are saying to the Somali people to support the peace process and reconciliation," the spokesman said.

On the other hand the chairman of Hawiye traditional elders Mr. Mohamed Hasan Haad also has called for the forces fighting in Mogadishu to stop the fighting and asserted that fighting is not important at the moment urging them to give full support to the peace efforts going in the country.

Mr. Haad said that they had a promise that the African Union peacekeepers AMISOM will leave from whole the country and suggested to the Somalis to respect the deadline and halt the fighting to save the civilians

The calls of both the Islamic Organization of Al-islah and Hawiye traditional elders comes as fresh fighting restarted in the Somali capital Mogadishu early on Wednesday morning.

Source: AllAfrica.com