- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (AP) - A group of influential Somali Islamic clerics has rejected Osama bin Laden’s call to Somalis to overthrow the country’s new president, the group’s leader said on Friday.

Bin Laden issued a statement Thursday that outlined al-Qaida’s ambitions in Somalia, which the United States has long feared to be a haven for the terror network. In the audiotape, bin Laden called Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed a turncoat and tool of the United States.

U.S. counterterrorism officials have warned of al-Qaida’s growing ties with Somalia’s powerful al-Shabab militants, who frequently battle government troops and attack African Union peacekeepers in the country. Last year, the U.S. State Department added al-Shabab, which means “the Youth,” to its list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Somalia has been torn apart by warlords and Islamic militant groups for nearly two decades. In January, parliament elected Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, in hopes that he would unify the country’s factions.

Somalis are tired of war and want law and order, said Sheik Bashir Ahmed Salad, leader of the Council of Correction and Reconciliation.

“We clearly condemn Sheik Osama’s statement. It was unfair that he (Osama bin Laden) ignored the role of the ulema (clerics),” Salad told The Associated Press.

“We as ‘ulema’ (clerics) are the eyes and ears of the entire Somali population and we emphasize that we are tired of wars and violence. We want and support the government led by (President) Sheik Sharif (Sheik Ahmed),” Salad said. “This country belongs to Somalis, who are 100 percent Muslims. … Our interest is law and order.”

The Council of Correction and Reconciliation is an influential group of Islamic clerics that is not allied to any Islamic militia. It has in recent months been mediating among the rival Islamic groups to get them to stop fighting each other as the ensuing violence puts civilians in more danger.

Most Somalis are moderate and chafe against rules prohibiting music, sports and even chewing qat, a narcotic leaf popular in Somalia.

The United Nations and Washington have welcomed Ahmed’s election as president. His predecessor, Abdullahi Yusuf, resigned in December over his failure to stop the Islamic insurgency and went into exile.

Ahmed is from the Islamist opposition and has succeeded in drawing several other groups out of the insurgency. The aim is to isolate Somalia’s hard-line militants, particularly al-Shabab, which controls large chunks of the country and has been blamed for imposing a harsh brand of Islam on the regions it controls.



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