- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2006

Clashes between an alliance of Somali warlords and gunmen loyal to hard-line Islamist courts have raged for nearly a week in the streets of the capital, Mogadishu, with more than 100 people killed and hundreds more wounded.

A group of powerful warlords have set aside long-standing rivalries to form a self-styled counterterrorism bloc to rout Islamists linked to al Qaeda.

The Islamists administer a network of courts that have been charged with ordering extrajudicial killings.

“By taking their grievances to the streets, these armed groups have effectively unleashed a war on their own people. I appeal to leaders on both sides to step back from the brink and reconsider the damage they are inflicting on the population,” U.N. envoy for Somalia Francois Fall warned earlier this week.

Street clashes between armed groups have plagued Somalia since the 1991 ouster of former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

The country’s 11 million citizens have been without an effective central government for 15 years, and some Somali activists say the Islamic courts have had a stabilizing effect on previously chaotic parts of the capital.

But members of the anti-Islamist coalition charge that the makeshift judicial system has ordered extrajudicial killings of moderate Muslim clerics, abetted militias with ties to al Qaeda and shifted the country toward extremism.

The latest clashes began Sunday, with shells regularly hitting houses and killing many civilians, including women and children. Reuters news agency reported that fighting yesterday had raised this week’s death toll to at least 130.

Western intelligence analysts have warned for years that poverty and shattered government institutions have primed Somalia as a breeding ground for Islamic extremism.

The United States and other governments are thought to be backing Somali counterterrorism networks made up of faction leaders and former police officers.

This strategy is said to have led to the capture of one key al Qaeda figure and the arrest of more than a dozen militants.

Somalia’s interim president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, has accused Washington of financing the warlords.

In response to the accusations, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington that the United States would “work with responsible individuals … in fighting terror. It’s a real concern of ours, terror taking root in the Horn of Africa.

“We don’t want to see another safe haven for terrorists created.”

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