A high-ranking member of the Islamist group that controls Somalia's capital, says it is not planning an attack on neighboring Ethiopia. Fears of such an attack were raised when a leader of the Islamist group declared "holy war" on Ethiopia.
In a telephone interview with VOA, the official in charge of the Islamic court's foreign affairs, Ibrahim Addou, dismissed mounting concerns in Ethiopia and abroad that the Islamists may be planning to carry out attacks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and elsewhere in the country.
The Islamists, who have taken control of Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia, claim Ethiopia has sent troops into Somalia to support the weak, but internationally backed transitional government. Ethiopia denies having sent its troops across the border.
Addou told VOA that while the Islamists do not intend to attack Ethiopia, they would be prepared to defend the territory they control in Somalia.
"I don't want to discuss military plans on the air," he said. "However, we are not going anywhere. Our objective is to create peace and stability in Somalia, and establish good working relationship with our neighbors. So, we are not going outside Somalia."
The Islamists made their declaration of "holy war" after they accused Ethiopian troops of helping the forces of Somalia's secular government in Baidoa briefly seize a town called Buur Hakaba, controlled by pro-Islamist fighters.
Government and military officials in Baidoa confirmed that their forces took the town. But they denied that Ethiopian troops were with them.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi subsequently acknowledged that some Ethiopian military advisors are in the town of Baidoa, but he says he has no troops inside Somalia.
Since the Islamists seized power in June from factional leaders in Mogadishu, various leaders have repeatedly accused largely Christian Ethiopia of sending troops over the border and trying to provoke a conflict.
Addou, who is a naturalized American citizen, says Somalis have no choice but to defend themselves.
"Ethiopia is just trying to do everything possible to create instability in Somalia," he said. "As you know, Ethiopia is a land-locked country. So, Ethiopia is desperately trying to conquer Somalia by force to use its ports. And so, we have decided to defend our country."
But the Islamists' declaration of a jihad, or holy war, heightened concern because the message was delivered by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who is viewed as a moderate voice inside the courts. To emphasize the Islamists' anger, Ahmed appeared at a press conference wearing combat fatigues and brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle.
Western diplomats and observers have urged Ethiopia to remain neutral, warning that military incursions into Somalia could give hardliners inside the Islamic courts an excuse to open the way for foreign fighters and create a new battleground in the war on terror.
Ethiopia says the Islamists are led by terrorists, and it will not tolerate a fundamentalist Muslim state as its neighbor.
The United States has accused the Islamic movement of supporting al-Qaida terrorists and planning to turn Somalia into a Taleban-style Islamic state.
Addou said the Islamists have no connection with any outside groups, and want to normalize relations with the rest of the world.