- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia

The country’s Muslim community voiced support yesterday for Addis Ababa’s tough stance against powerful Islamists in neighboring Somalia, now on the brink of war with the weak Somali government.

A top leader of the mostly moderate community condemned the Islamists for their declaration of “holy war” against mainly Christian Ethiopia. He accused them of spreading radical views, hatred and terrorism.

“Here we live in tolerance, and we are teaching tolerance,” said Elias Redman, vice president of the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC), voicing concern about developments in Somalia.

He blamed religious riots between Christians and Muslims in September and October, when a score of people were killed in western Ethiopia, on about 500 extremists who had trained in Somalia.

“There is a small minority [of Islamic fundamentalists] in Ethiopia, not more than 500 fanatics, but trained in Somalia and very active,” Mr. Elias told Agence France-Presse in an interview in Addis Ababa.

Because of this, he said, Ethiopian Muslims are nervously watching developments next door where the Islamist movement controls the capital and much of southern and central Somalia and is girding for all-out war with the Somali government.

“The terrorists want to seize power in East Africa,” Mr. Elias said, noting that some in the Somali Islamist movement are accused of al Qaeda ties and have been blamed for two suicide car bomb attacks in Mogadishu, seat of the Somali government.

“These Islamists in Somalia are trying to change the religion of the world, which is against the Holy Koran, like al Qaeda,” he said. “They want to convert the whole of East Africa. Now they are starting in Ethiopia from Somalia.”

With its large and potentially restive Muslim population, many of whom are ethnic Somalis living near the Ethiopia-Somalia border, Addis Ababa has watched with concern the rise of the Somali Islamists.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has announced that his country is ready for war with the Islamists and has secured parliamentary approval to deal with the threat he says they pose, a step backed by Mr. Elias and his organization.

Ethiopia denies charges it has deployed thousands of combat troops to support the Somali government, but acknowledges sending several hundred military advisers and trainers to defend it from attack.

Mr. Meles says some in the movement are colluding with Ethiopia’s archfoe, Eritrea, as well as with Ethiopian separatist groups and al Qaeda to destabilize his country and the region, a position also shared by Mr. Elias and the EIASC.

“These people are extremist Wahhabis supported by Saudi Arabia, and they want to teach us their reading of Islam,” Mr. Elias said. “Here, we were Muslims before the Mecca people, before the Medina people,” he said. “We have the original books, and we are sharing the original Islam. They cannot tell us what Islam is.”

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