- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2006

4:20 p.m.

MOGADISHU, Somalia — An Islamic militia said today it has seized Somalia’s capital after weeks of bloody fighting and 15 years of anarchy in this Horn of Africa nation, raising fears that the nation could fall under the sway of al Qaeda.

The militia appeared in control of Mogadishu. Most of the leaders of a secular alliance that opposed them — with cooperation from the United States — appeared to have fled the city by this afternoon.

“We want to restore peace and stability to Mogadishu. We are ready to meet and talk to anybody and any group for the interest of the people,” Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, chairman of the Islamic Courts Union, said on a radio broadcast.

The militia has been battling a secular alliance of warlords for control of the country, with the fight intensifying since February. More than 300 people have been killed and 1,700 wounded, many of them civilians caught in the crossfire.

The secular alliance says the militias have links to al Qaeda. Attempts to reach alliance leaders were not immediately successful.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, have confirmed cooperating with the warlords. Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, president of Somalia’s transitional national government, has said Washington is funding the alliance.

The United States has not carried out any direct action in Somalia since the deaths of 18 servicemen in a 1993 battle depicted in the film “Black Hawk Down.”

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said recently that three al Qaeda leaders indicted in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania are being sheltered by Islamic leaders in Mogadishu.

The same al Qaeda cell is believed responsible for the 2002 suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya that killed 15 people and a simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner.

The fundamentalists accuse the alliance of working for the CIA.

Somalia, an impoverished country of 8 million, has been divided into rival fiefdoms since 1991, when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

The Islamic militants are the first group to consolidate control over all of Mogadishu’s clan-divided neighborhoods since then, giving them enormous political and economic power in Somalia.

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