- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden have shipped weapons to Somalia, a sign that their al Qaeda group may be moving its operating base out of Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence officials said.
The shipments were detected by U.S. intelligence agencies over the past two weeks and included small arms, grenade-launchers and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, said officials familiar with intelligence reports.
The weapons arrived by cargo ship at a secluded port and are believed by U.S. intelligence agencies to have originated in Afghanistan.
"There are indications bin Laden is setting up a new base of operations in Somalia," one official told The Washington Times.
A second U.S. official confirmed that weapons have been sent to Islamic terrorist groups.
"We have reason to believe that al Qaeda and other extremist groups have provided some weapons and funding to Somalia," the official said.
The official identified one Somali group getting the arms as al-Ittihad al-Islami, which was described as a "powerful Islamic extremist group."
This official said Somalia is one of several locations to which bin Laden might try to flee, although "we still think he's in Afghanistan."
Other possible havens for the exiled Saudi terrorist leader might include Chechnya, Pakistan or one of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
U.S. intelligence agencies have been unable to pinpoint bin Laden's exact location in Afghanistan, a U.S. official said. One location bin Laden was known to frequent is a cave hideout in central Afghanistan, north of the southern city of Kandahar.
President Bush has demanded that the Taliban militia, which rules most of Afghanistan, turn over bin Laden and his terrorist associates and shut down all the training camps for international Islamic extremists.
Pakistan's leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf said yesterday that the Taliban's days appeared numbered because it will not surrender bin Laden. "It appears that the United States will take action in Afghanistan," he told the British Broadcasting Corporation from Islamabad.
Bin Laden and al Qaeda are key suspects in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed more than 6,000 people.
The arms shipments were tracked by U.S. intelligence agencies to an undeveloped area of Somalia. The weapons included AK-47 assault rifles and other small arms, the officials said.
Al Qaeda, or "the Base," is an Islamic extremist group that is believed to be operating in 50 to 60 nations, stretching from the Philippines to the United States. It is believed to have about 3,500 members.
In addition to the Sept. 11 attacks, the group has been blamed for the October bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen, the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa and two bombing attacks in Saudi Arabia.
Intelligence reports of the arms shipments followed other classified reporting in recent days that bin Laden was planning to flee Afghanistan for Somalia.
Officials familiar with the reports said there were signs that associates of bin Laden were in contact with Islamic extremists in Somalia and had discussed moving bin Laden and his family to that country.
Mogadishu, the Somali capital, was the scene of a bloody 1993 battle between U.S. Army Rangers and Somali militiamen that left 18 U.S. soldiers dead. Some of the dead soldiers' bodies were later paraded through the streets of Mogadishu.
U.S. forces had been deployed to the impoverished country as part of a humanitarian operation aimed at providing help to starving Somalis. The U.S. military withdrew from the country after the ambush.
The operation went wrong after the United Nations involved U.S. troops in a hunt for Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid that was part of a larger effort to rebuild the country.
Somalia, like Afghanistan, has no functioning government and thus could be used as a sanctuary for bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Some of the Somali militia that took part in the action were trained by Islamic radicals linked to bin Laden, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
Ethiopian government forces conducted military raids in Somalia in 1996 and broke up two terrorist training camps in southwestern Somalia, the official said.
One French news report stated last summer that bin Laden and al Qaeda have been tied to Islamic nongovernmental organizations operating in Somalia. The groups have been helping set up schools. Islamic terrorists from Egypt and Yemen also have been identified in Somalia.

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