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New Bin Laden Tape Calls for Somali President's Ouster

An audio recording, believed to be the voice of Osama bin Laden and focused entirely on Somalia, has been published on Islamic militant websites. The recording urges Somali militants to depose the country's new Islamist president.

The nearly 12-minute audio recording in Arabic entitled "Fight on, champions of Somalia" is accompanied by a photograph of Osama bin Laden and a map of Somalia in the background.

The alleged bin Laden recording, which was released by al-Qaida's media arm As-Sahab, lashes out at Somalia's Islamist president, who was one of the top leaders of the Islamic Courts Union before it was ousted from power by neighboring Ethiopia in late 2006.

The recording says Sharif Sheik Ahmed had changed and turned back on his heels to partner up with the infidel, referring to the Somali leader's decision last year to participate in U.N.-sponsored talks in Djibouti. Those talks paved the way for his Islamist-led opposition group to join the country's Ethiopian-backed secular transitional federal government and for his subsequent election on January 31 as president of a new unity government.

In the recording, the speaker says the election of Sharif Sheik Ahmed was orchestrated by the United States and urges Somali militants to overthrow the president.

The largest and the most powerful militant group in Somalia is al-Shabab, a group the United States has designated a terrorist organization because of its affiliation with al-Qaida. Al-Shabab led a two-year nationalist-driven insurgency against Ethiopia and the transitional federal government, gaining new recruits and vast amounts of territory. The group also imposed a strict, form of Islamic law in areas under their control, which many Somalis privately oppose.

Since Ethiopia withdrew its troops in January as part of the Djibouti accord, Somalis say al-Shabab's domestic support has dwindled and the group has been having difficulty keeping their fighters from defecting and successfully recruiting new ones.

Al-Shabab's power is also being increasingly challenged by pro-government forces and militias in various regions. The latest clash broke out on Wednesday in the Bakool region when a pro-government force attacked an al-Shabab base in the Rabdhure district.

A Somali politician representing the Lower and Middle Juba regions, Mohamed Amin Osman, says al-Qaida's alleged call to depose Sharif Sheik Ahmed is likely to anger many war-weary Somalis, who are willing, for now, to give the Islamist leader a chance to establish a functioning government in Somalia for the first time in nearly two decades.

"When you compare 2006-2007, lots of young boys joined al-Shabab. But now there are very few joining because most of the Somali community is fed up with al-Shabab and is against al-Shabab," said Osman.

But he says the president has been weakened in recent weeks by putting himself in the middle of a tug-of-war between Islamic clerics who want him to turn Somalia into an Islamist state and western donor nations who want to make sure that Somalia does not become a terrorist haven. Osman says Somalis are uncertain about what President Sharif will do and what direction the government will go.

In the meantime, the politician says bringing more African Union peacekeepers to protect the government is not the answer. He says he believes the move will only embolden al-Shabab and their Islamist allies and refill their ranks. There are currently about 3,500 troops from Uganda and Burundi in Mogadishu as part of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM.

"AMISOM is African foreign forces," he said. "Maybe they can support the security in parliament, some buildings, or some areas. But they cannot maintain the country's security."

Osman says the majority of people in Somalia are willing to back President Sharif and fight al-Shabab if they believe the government is strong enough to stand up to al-Shabab and bring peace to the country. Osman says he believes the only way the president can do that is to convince the international community to help the government quickly form a Somali national army, which cuts across clan lines.