- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2006

11:56 a.m.

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Somali government troops rolled into Mogadishu unopposed today, the prime minister said, hours after an Islamist movement that tried to establish a government based on the Koran abandoned the capital.

The Islamist militia promised a last stand in southern Somalia.

“We are in Mogadishu,” Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi said after meeting with local clan leaders to discuss the transfer of the city. “We are coordinating our forces to take control of Mogadishu.”

Mr. Gedi was welcomed to the town of Afgoye on the outskirts of Mogadishu by dozens of traditional leaders from the capital and hundreds of government and Ethiopian troops who have been fighting for more than a week against the Islamist militia. The Islamist fighters had at one point taken over the capital and most of southern Somalia.

The Islamist movement’s retreat early today, which its leaders called tactical, was followed by looting by clan militiamen, some of whom had been allied to the Islamists.

Gunfire could be heard in many parts of the city, and witnesses said at least several people had been killed.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi vowed to inflict total defeat on the Islamist movement and said he hoped the fighting would be over “in days, if not in a few weeks.”

“Forces of the transitional federal government and Ethiopia are on the outskirts of Mogadishu now,” he told reporters in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

“We are discussing what we need to do to make sure Mogadishu does not descend into chaos. We will not let Mogadishu burn.”

Mogadishu’s clan leaders, though, have the greatest influence over whether order or lawlessness follows the retreat of the Islamist movement known as the Council of Islamic Courts.

President Abdullahi Yusuf said today his troops were not a threat to the people of Mogadishu.

Mohamed Jama Furuh, a former warlord and current member of parliament, claimed control of the capital’s seaport on behalf of the government at midday. His militia had controlled the port before Islamic forces took over.

Abdirahman Janaqow, a top leader in the Islamist movement, said he had ordered his forces out of Mogadishu to avoid bloodshed.

“We want to face our enemy and their stooges … away from civilians,” he said in a telephone interview.

Yusuf Ibrahim, a former Islamist movement fighter who quit today, said only the most hard-core fighters were still opposing the government and its Ethiopian backers. He said they numbered about 3,000 and they were headed to the port city of Kismayo, south of Mogadishu, which the Islamist forces captured in September.

Witnesses reported seeing a large number of foreign fighters in the convoys heading south. Islamic movement leaders had called on foreign Muslims to join their “holy war” against Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population. Hundreds were believed to have answered the call.

In Iraq, an insurgent group linked to al Qaeda in Iraq urged Muslims to support the Islamists in Somalia, according to an Internet statement.

The Islamic movement took Mogadishu six months ago and then advanced across most of southern Somalia, often without fighting. Then Ethiopian troops went on the attack in support of the government last week.

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