- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Jolted by last September's terrorist strike against the United States and the strength of the American commitment to rid the world of terrorist threats, Somalia's nominal leaders say they have swept aside any doubts about their refusal to harbor Muslim extremists.

"We have invited the United States to take any reasonable actions in assuring itself that Somalia will not harbor terrorists," Yusuf Hassan Ibrahim, the foreign minister of the Transitional National Government, said in an interview.

It was a welcome message that Mr. Ibrahim delivered during a visit to Washington last week. Unfortunately, his government's authority barely reaches beyond the building it occupies as a headquarters in the capital, Mogadishu.

The rest of the seaside city still is ruled by the warlords and armed gangs whose turf battles have created virtual anarchy since the overthrow of President Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991.

In the south, a rival political organization, the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council, holds sway. Somalia's western neighbor, Ethiopia, has started attacks in support of that group and has provided a haven to one of its leaders, Hussein Mohammed Aidid, the son and clan successor of warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid.

It was an effort to break up the Aidid organization that resulted in the death in 1993 of 18 Americans soldiers and searing television pictures of the body of one of them being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

Next month, the contending forces are scheduled to meet in Nairobi, Kenya, for yet another try at forming a government of national unity.

"We are very hopeful that the conference will serve to broaden the recognition of the TNG as the legitimate government of Somalia," Mr. Ibrahim said.

Under relentless U.S. presssure, Somalia, like Pakistan and Yemen, has swung from toleration to formal opposition to religious extremists.

The extremists, al-Ittihad al-Islami (Islamic Union), have had their assets frozen by the United States for their support of terrorism, and the government of Abdikassim Salad Hassan has dissociated itself from the movement.

"The militants have either gone underground or have disbanded," Mr. Ibrahim said.

With Somalia's cooperation, the United states has begun continuous air surveillance over Somalia and is sharing intelligence with government officials. European forces meanwhile are monitoring Somalia's coasts and harbors.

"Right now we're watching them like a hawk," one U.S. official said.

Immediately after the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration identified Somalia as a possible target for U.S. military action. But in light of the Somali cooperation, the U.S. official said, "We're not thinking right now of anything huge."

One of Mr. Ibrahim's main goals in Washington was to seek a restoration of remittances sent into the country by Somalis living abroad.

The remittances, one of the few sources of funding available to the fractured nation, were largely cut off when the United States froze the assets of the conglomerate.

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