- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

MOGADISHU, Somalia

Somali Islamists have begun recruiting thousands of young fighters to wage a “jihad” against Ethiopia, officials said yesterday amid fears of imminent all-out war across the lawless Horn of Africa nation.

A day after claiming to have captured an Ethiopian military officer in fierce weekend battles with a militia allied to Somalia’s weak government, the Islamists said at least 3,000 people had enlisted for holy war.

Officials said many of the new recruits signed up Tuesday and yesterday after the supreme leader of the powerful Islamist movement announced the start of a jihad against Ethiopian troops reputed to have entered Somalia, officials said.

“We have at least 3,000 young fighters who have now registered to fight the enemy of Allah,” a senior official of the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts told Agence France-Presse in Mogadishu.

The newcomers, including women, will join what the Islamists say are tens of thousands of battle-hardened gunmen who seized Mogadishu in June from warlords and now control most of southern and central Somalia.

“We have trained them to fight and that is religious obligation,” said Sheik Abdinur Farah, a senior Islamist commander who runs a jihad recruitment center in Qoryoley, about 75 miles south of Mogadishu.

“Ethiopia has made clear its intention: That is a war against us,” he said from the town. “So we are calling an open war against Ethiopia and every young fighter is welcome to join the jihad against the Ethiopian invaders.”

Ethiopia and the Somali government repeatedly have denied eyewitness accounts of Ethiopian soldiers in Somalia, although Addis Ababa has said several times it has sent trainers and advisers.

But mainly Christian Ethiopia has vowed to protect itself and the Somali government from the “jihadists,” whom, with the transitional government, it accuses of links to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.

On Tuesday, the Islamists claimed to have seized the Ethiopian officer in clashes that killed at least 51 persons north of the southern port of Kismayo.

Ethiopia has not yet responded to the reputed capture of the officer, who was not identified by name or rank.

On Monday, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, chief of the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia and a hard-line cleric designated a “terrorist” by the United States, urged Somalis to take up arms against Ethiopian troops.

Several recruits, interviewed yesterday by Agence France-Presse from Qoryoley, said they had been inspired to join the jihad by Sheik Aweys’ speech in which he vowed that the graves of Ethiopian troops would “be littered everywhere in Somalia.”

“I have been looking for somewhere to devote my passion for my religion and country,” said Abdullahi Sidow Hassan, 23. “Now that the righteous jihad has started, I have found it.”

Fadumo Isaq Duale, 20, a female student, echoed that sentiment.

“I am ready to die for my religion because it is a religious obligation on every Muslim, be it man or woman,” she said. “We have nothing to lose, because Ethiopia is violating our religion and our land.”

Soaring tension between the Islamists and the government and worsening security in south and central Somalia have prompted tens of thousands to flee into neighboring Kenya and added to concerns of widespread conflict.

The deteriorating situation threatens to wreck a planned third round of Arab League-mediated peace talks between the government and the Islamists expected to begin on Monday in Khartoum.

Somalia has been without a functioning central administration since 1991 and the government, formed in neighboring Kenya in 2004, has been wracked by infighting and been unable to assert control over much of the country.


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