- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2011

Eritrea planned and financed an attempted terrorist attack on a summit of African leaders in January in neighboring Ethiopia, its longtime enemy in the Horn of Africa, according to a U.N. report released Thursday.

The report summarized months of investigation by the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, which included testimony by gunmen who claimed Eritrea paid them to bomb a meeting of the African Union in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

The plot “envisaged mass casualty attacks against civilian targets and the strategic use of explosives to create a climate of fear … ,” the report said.

The report also accused Eritrea of using its embassy in Kenya to finance the Somali terrorist group, al Shabab, which is linked to al Qaeda.

The Eritrean government has consistently denied accusations, first raised by Ethiopian officials earlier this year.

Araya Desta, Eritrea’s ambassador to the United Nations, strongly denounced the U.N. report as a work of “fiction.”

Eritrea has never been involved in any acts of terrorism in the last 40 years,” Mr. Desta told The Washington Times. “What has been said in this monitoring group [report] is bogus and outrageous.

“This fabricated drama is absolutely absurd,” he said.

The report said members of an Ethiopian rebel group, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), attempted to smuggle explosives into Addis Ababa to bomb a marketplace and the AU headquarters. Ethiopian security forces arrested suspected members of the terrorist team days before the planned attack.

The team leader, Omar Idriss Mohamed, reportedly confessed that he was in direct contact with Eritrea spymaster Gen. Te’ame Goitum, the head of the country’s intelligence service.

The operation “was conceived, planned, supported and directed by the external operations directorate of the government of Eritrea,” the report said.

Mr. Mohamed said the dual attack on the 30 AU leaders at the meeting and Ethiopian civilians was supposed to cast doubt on Ethiopia’s stability.

“The intention was not to kill the leaders, but to show them that they are not safe, that Ethiopia is not safe for them,” Mr. Mohamed said in testimony to the monitoring group.

“By so doing, some people may start to listen to what Eritrea is saying about Ethiopia.”

Cellphone records and money-order transactions between members of the plot and Eritrean military leaders are also included in the report.

The report cited Eritrean links to al Qaeda, and the movement of weapons and money through Somalia and Eritrea.

The monitoring group was formed to investigate violations of arms embargoes in Somalia and Eritrea.

Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 but has had a tense relationship with the country ever since, fighting a two-year war about border disputes in 1998.

Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi in March pledged to use all “diplomatic and military” means to overthrow the Eritrean government.