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Disbanded Militant Youth Group in Somalia Support Al-Qaida Message


In Somalia, an alleged message from Osama bin Laden's deputy urging Somalis to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war against Ethiopian forces there is being taken seriously by a now mostly-disbanded group of militant Somali youths known as the Shaabab. In an interview with VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in Mogadishu, one former Shaabab member warns that he and many of his colleagues are still committed to waging a holy war against Ethiopia.

The audiotaped message, allegedly by al-Qaida's number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, appeared Friday on a Web site used by Muslim extremist groups.

The message urged Somalis to use guerrilla tactics, including suicide attacks and roadside bombings, against thousands of Ethiopian troops, backing up interim government forces, in Somalia.

Many Somalis in the capital interviewed by VOA acknowledged that Ethiopia is still considered an enemy and their presence is creating tension.

But they also lamented al-Zawahri's call for violence, saying Somalia, which suffered through more than 15 years of factional fighting, does not need any more instability.

But a local hard-line Islamist, who identifies himself only as Hassan, tells VOA that there are many well-trained members of the militant Shaabab group ready to heed al-Qaida's call.

Hassan, 27, is a former Shaabab member, who fought in recent Islamist battles against Ethiopian and government troops. Shaabab, whose members are believed to number more than 1,000, was organized earlier this year by Adan Hashi Ayro, a top Somali Islamist military commander, who had received terrorist training in Afghanistan.

Hassan says he probably would not volunteer for suicide missions, but he would do all of the other things he was trained to do, such as constructing and planting roadside bombs and launching hit-and-run attacks. He says he and other members of the Shaabab would not stop until all Ethiopians left Somalia.

Hassan disputes Somali Interior Minister Hussein Aideed's contention that some 3,500 Islamist fighters are still organized and hiding in Mogadishu, waiting to re-start the war.

Hassan says when Islamist leaders, including Ayro, fled the capital on December 28, most Islamist fighters simply went back to their clans. Shaabab members who were not part of Ayro's inner circle, stayed in Mogadishu and effectively self-dissolved.

He says the Shaabab no longer meets and has no weapons. But he says if the remaining members here can find another sponsor like Ayro, they could become a radical fighting force again very quickly.

For two weeks in late December, Christian-led Ethiopia provided troops and massive firepower in defense of the country's U.N.-backed interim government against Islamist forces.

Several senior Islamist leaders, who are believed to have ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations, were chased out of their strongholds and are now in hiding near Somalia's border with Kenya.

On Friday, Ethiopian and government troops battled at least 600 Islamist militiamen in the area, while U.S. Navy war ships patrolled the coast to keep militants from fleeing by sea.

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