MOGADISHU(AP), Somalia: Islamic militants in Somalia welcomed being added to the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations, saying Wednesday they only wished the designation had come sooner.
The State Department announced Tuesday that it added the military wing of the Council of Islamic Court to its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Some members of its military wing, called al-Shabab or “the youth,” are affiliated with the al-Qaida terror network, U.S. officials said.
“We are happy that the U.S. put us on its list of terrorists, a name given to pure Muslims who are strong and clear in their religious position,” Sheik Muqtar Robow, al-Shabab’s spokesman, told The Associated Press by phone from an undisclosed location in Somalia. He said he was pleased to be on a list that included Islamic militants — “our brothers” — in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We would have been happy to be the first but now we are unhappy that we are the last,” Robow said.
He accused the United States of targeting his group because it is “fighting against Ethiopia, a Christian nation that had invaded our country.”
On Wednesday, heavy fighting in Mogadishu killed at least eight people, including three Ethiopian soldiers, witnesses said.
Earlier Wednesday, top Council of Islamic Courts leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys denied links between terrorists and al-Shabab, and said the militants “are part of the coalition for the re-liberation of Somalia.”
“The U.S. policy toward Somalia is always wrong and twisted,” Aweys told the AP in a telephone interview. “They made the wrong decision in 2006 when they backed the Ethiopian invasion and they are wrong to designate part of the resistance as terrorists.”
Designated terror organizations cannot legally receive material or resources from Americans, and their property and interests in the U.S. are blocked.
Officials from Somalia’s transitional government say al-Shabab’s leader, Aden Hashi Ayro, was trained in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks, and heads up al-Qaida’s cell in Somalia.
The United States repeatedly has accused Somalia’s Islamic movement of harboring terrorists linked to al-Qaida and allegedly responsible for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The U.S. military has staged several attacks on suspected extremists in Somalia over the past year. The Navy’s most recent missile strike, earlier this month, targeted a Kenyan suspected in the 1998 embassy bombings. The U.S. also sent a small number of special operations troops to help the Ethiopian force that drove the Islamic movement into hiding.
The U.S. has avoided sustained military action in Somalia since leading a U.N. force that intervened in the early 1990s in an effort to fight famine. That mission led to clashes between U.N. forces and Somali warlords, including a battle in Mogadishu that killed 18 American soldiers.
Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on one another. The current transitional government — formed with U.N. help in 2004 — has struggled to assert any real control.
SOURCE: AP, March 19, 2008