- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Islamist fighters hiding in Mogadishu since their movement’s main force was driven from the Somali capital say they will heed al Qaeda’s call for guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings against Ethiopian troops whose intervention was key to the Islamists’ defeat.

“I am committed to die for the sake of my religion, and the al Qaeda deputy’s speech only encourages me to go ahead with my holy war,” 18-year-old Sahal Abdi told the Associated Press, referring to an audio message posted on the Internet yesterday.

Troops of Somalia’s transitional government, backed by the Ethiopian military, routed the Islamic militia from much of southern Somalia, ending their six months in power. The group had brought a semblance of stability here but terrified residents with a version of Islamic rule that included public executions and floggings of criminals.

Interviews with militants who fought with the Islamic Courts Union and went underground when most of their comrades fled Mogadishu last week suggest their movement is ready for battle.

Somalia’s interior minister says 3,500 fighters are hiding in and around the capital.

The AP contacted several militants by telephone after townspeople identified them as former fighters known from the months when the Islamic movement controlled Mogadishu.

None of those interviewed was a leader.

They acknowledged being fighters but refused to be photographed and, in some cases, to give their full names, fearing reprisals from government or Ethiopian troops.

They said the movement they served as foot soldiers will rise again.

“The call from the al Qaeda deputy leader is based on Islam and we are adamant in our religion,” said Sheik Musa, who would not identify himself further. “There is no option but to heed his call.”

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, urged the Islamic movement’s fighters and other Muslims to attack the troops of Christian-dominated Ethiopia, which he called a “crusader” invasion force.

“Launch ambushes, land mines, raids and suicidal combats until you consume them as the lions and eat their prey,” al-Zawahri said in the taped message that aired on a Web site frequently used by militants and carried the logo of al Qaeda’s press production wing, as-Sahab.

A meeting of U.S., European Union, African and Arab diplomats ended in Kenya yesterday with a U.S. pledge to provide $40 million to Somalia in political, humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance, and a plan to ask more African nations to send troops to help stabilize the country. Uganda has pledged at least 1,000 peacekeepers.

The EU said it would also help pay for a peacekeeping force envisioned at 8,000 soldiers.

Still supported by Ethiopians, government troops prepared yesterday for a major assault on Ras Kamboni, the last stronghold of the Islamic militia. U.S. warships patrolled offshore to prevent militiamen from escaping by sea.

The U.S. 5th Fleet said vessels were being boarded to look for militants, including three al Qaeda suspects wanted for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. The Islamists have denied U.S. accusations that the three were leaders in the Somali movement.

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