- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

MOGADISHU, Somalia Somali elders gathered recently on the breezy, open-walled top floor of north Mogadishu's Global Hotel to jointly defend their ravaged country against U.S. charges that it is home to key players in international terrorism.
"We came to deny the allegations against Barakaat," said Malaq Colow, one of about two dozen elder men representing various elements of Somali society.
Last month, Bush administration officials closed American offices of Barakaat, one of the banks used by the million-strong Somali diaspora to send money home, accusing it of giving some of its profits to the terrorist organization al Qaeda.
A Barakaat spokesman said the measures likely would lead to closing the firm's operations, though the bank categorically denied the charges.
"We are afraid the allegations will make us like Afghanistan. We are not terrorists. It is enemies of Somalia that make these allegations. We call on the international community to come here and investigate," said Malaq Colow.
"America is not an enemy of Somalia," he added.
Hersi Hierra Derwale, another elder at the meeting, suggested there might be an element of retribution in the action against the bank, which, along with the government, also strenuously denied the U.S. accusations.
"Some Americans were killed in Somalia," he said, referring to the deaths of 18 U.S. special forces during a 1993 battle in Mogadishu.
"So for that reason I think [President] Bush doesn't know, doesn't think, doesn't get any clear information, but maybe he is avenging us."
The white-haired Somali noted that the bank had an advertising slogan: "Keep your money with Barakaat, take your money from Barakaat."
"Now it looks like keep your money with Barakaat and get your money from Bush, which is absolutely a headache for us," he said, stressing that his country desperately needs to count America among its friends.
"We need the world to help us now to build our country again. Have you seen our houses, our town? We destroyed ourselves," he said.
The Global Hotel lies oddly intact in a part of town that is battle-scarred to an apocalyptic degree.
A building that was once the seat of the colonial-era parliament and later a courthouse now has no roof, and few walls. All the buildings here, Mogadishu's onetime administrative district, have been ruined by gunfire, grenades, shells and looters in need of materials such as bricks.
Most streets are overgrown with cactus and other vegetation. Not far away are the remains of the city's Italian-built cathedral, barely recognizable and surrounded by its own rubble.
Although the effects of a civil war which began more than 12 years ago and which still occasionally erupts into skirmishes are visible all over Mogadishu, residents make do as best they can.
Foreign visitors and local VIPs cannot safely travel without an armed escort, usually made up of one or two pickup trucks laden with young men and their weapons.
Sometimes, when the invisible borders of the city's fiefdoms are crossed, gunmen from the new territory will replace those from the old one, thereby preventing rival groups getting too close to each other's heartlands.
Livestock is a common downtown sight, including cows sleeping against the wall of a heavily guarded compound occupied by the year-old transitional government.

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