- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

The United States warned its citizens in Kenya and Ethiopia yesterday about the possibility of suicide attacks by “extremist elements” from Somalia amid rising fears of a regional war in the Horn of Africa.

The State Department urged Somalia’s neighbors to stay away from the struggle between the country’s weak central government and the powerful Islamic courts that control the capital, Mogadishu, and much of the country.

The U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Addis Ababa cited reports of “terrorist threats emanating from extremist elements within Somalia which target Kenya, Ethiopia and other surrounding countries.” The threats “specifically mention the execution of suicide explosions in prominent landmarks within Kenya and Ethiopia,” the embassies warned.

The messages called on Americans to be vigilant and to use extreme caution in public places.

Intelligence officials and nongovernmental organizations in the region are warning of an escalation of the Somali conflict, with Ethiopia supporting the interim government and Eritrea backing the Islamists. Kenya is home to many Somali expatriates.

Recent troop movements and artillery fire have added to the anxiety. “Given the situation on the ground, the proximity of the forces and the artillery duels of the last few days, an escalation is likely,” regional analyst Matt Bryden told Reuters news agency. “It could be hours, it could be days, it could be weeks.”

The United States has accused the Islamists of harboring al Qaeda operatives.

“There are concerns that the … current situation in Somalia might lend itself to wider violence in the region, and we are doing everything we can to see that does not happen,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

“We believe the most hopeful course forward begins with transitional federal institutions and the Islamic courts coming together,” he said.

Bomb attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 killed 224 persons, including 12 Americans.

Somalia’s government yesterday rebuffed efforts to reorganize peace talks after they failed this week in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

Diplomats said mediators were trying to persuade the two sides to return to the table in the middle of the month, and the Islamists said they were “always ready and prepared” for negotiations.” But government delegate Ahmed Omar Gagale told Reuters: “The government delegation has refused to set a date and a place.”

In Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry issued a blunt assessment of the deteriorating situation, blaming “extremist” Islamists for the failure of the talks and the looming war.

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