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Peace Activist Killed in Somalia

Unidentified gunmen killed a high-profile peace activist in Somalia's capital early Monday. Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group released a report saying that a jihadi network with links to al-Qaida now has a foothold in the volatile nation.

The activist killed, Abdulkadir Yahya Ali, co-founded and directed the Center for Research and Dialogue, a Mogadishu-based group involved in peace advocacy and training and affiliated with the Geneva-based War Torn Societies Project International.

Witnesses say unidentified gunmen dragged Mr. Ali out of his house during the night and shot him.

Somalia's minister of planning and international cooperation for development, Abdrizak Osman, tells VOA the reasons for Mr. Ali's murder are unclear. "The government will condemn this act officially. We are trying (by) every possible means and ways (to) trace and find out and investigate who was responsible for this action," he said.

Despite the formation of a new transitional government created at the end of last year following a two-year peace process, Somalia is still volatile and unstable.

Earlier this year, a BBC reporter and a Somali aid worker were killed in apparently targeted attacks.

Meanwhile, in a report released Monday, the International Crisis Group says what it calls a "new, ruthless, independent jihadi network with links to al-Qaida" has gained a foothold in Somalia.

According to the report, a man by the name of Ayro, who had been trained in Afghanistan, has been leading the group from his base in Mogadishu since 2003.

The group has been linked to the murders of four aid workers over the past two years and at least 10 Somali officials working in counter-terrorism, as well as the recent desecration of an Italian cemetery dating back to the colonial era.

The group's aims and membership are unclear.

The Somali analyst at the International Crisis Group, Matt Bryden, describes the group. "This particular jihadi group is smaller and less sophisticated than jihadi networks in many Western countries. It's a small, probably manageable presence, it's a deeply unpopular trend in Somalia. But there's a need first of all to persuade Somalis that the threat is real, and that the target of counter-terrorism after it's of international concern is this small group. It is not the Somali people as a whole, it is not the Muslim faith, but it's a limited and discreet group of extremists," he said.

The report says a strong, stable government in Somalia is the best way to address the presence of jihadi terrorism in Somalia.

Minister of Planning and International Cooperation for Development Abdrizak Osman says his government is new, fragile, and is trying its best to cope with the country's many problems, including the presence of fundamentalist groups. "We need to talk and change this culture of forcing one's ideas and political visions to the others. Let's talk, let's discuss, let's try to find out solutions for our problems," he said.

The United States has long believed that Somalia is a potential haven for terrorist groups, and has a joint Horn of Africa task force based in Djibouti monitoring Somalia and other countries.

The 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2002 suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel on Kenya's coast, are thought to have been carried out by terrorists with links to Somalia.