Experts on Somalia have mixed opinions about some of the findings in a new U.N. commission report that accuses 10 countries from across the Middle East and Africa of supplying money, weapons, troops, and training to the Islamic militia that controls much of Somalia.
A panel of U.N. weapons and financial experts from the United States, Belgium, Kenya, and Colombia prepared the 86-page report, which the Somali Islamist movement and several countries named in the report have already dismissed.
Speaking to Somali reporters in Mogadishu Thursday, the official in charge of the Islamic courts' foreign affairs, Ibrahim Addou, called the allegations "baseless."
Addou says the report is totally unfair and ridiculous in it assertions.
The U.N. commission report, which was leaked to the press this week, alleges that at least seven countries - Eritrea, Djibouti, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Egypt, are aiding the country's powerful Somali Islamists and three others nations - Ethiopia, Uganda, and Yemen - are backing the secular and internationally recognized-but-weak interim government in Baidoa.
The active military involvement of regional rivals - Ethiopia and Eritrea - in Somalia is already well-documented and the report echoes previous U.N. warnings that the conflict in Somalia could ignite a regionally-destabilizing proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
But, for the first time, it also provides troubling and controversial evidence about the arms, training, and financing being given to Islamic militants in Somalia.
Nairobi-based Somali expert Matt Bryden says much of the report mirrors his own research. But he is not convinced of the report's allegation that more than 700 Somali Islamists went to Lebanon in July to fight Israel, alongside the militant Shi'ite Hezbollah group.
"We are talking about the month of July this year, when the [Islamic] courts were still highly disorganized and only had about three thousand fighters," he said.
"How, at that point, they managed to pull together about a fifth of their fighting force and send it overseas and how nobody seemed to notice Somalis in Lebanon, I think, raise more serious questions. It just seems highly improbable," he added.
Bryden says he is also skeptical about allegations that Shi'ite Muslim Iran is seeking the help of radical Sunni Muslim Islamists in finding uranium in Somalia in exchange for weapons.
"There are uranium deposits, but the last time Somalia was raised in conjunction with uranium was in the context of Iraq's supposed visit to Niger to gather uranium and the intelligence back then were faulty. So, we need to know what this is based [on]," he said.
But the director of the Nelson Institute at James Madison University in the United States, J. Peter Pham, says he believes it is entirely plausible that Iran, as well as other countries named in the report, have established a cooperative relationship with the hard-line leadership of the Somali Islamic courts.
"Often, what unites these groups is the enemy rather than anything they may have in common between themselves," he said.
"And I have argued for several years now that the Islamic courts and its lead personalities have long-standing and quite strong ties to Middle Eastern regimes and terrorist organizations. The trends are there today that this is going to be a very dangerous place unless somebody steps in to deal with it while it is still manageable," he added.
Somali Islamists seized the capital Mogadishu in June on a wave of popular support. Since then, they have rapidly expanded their power throughout southern and central Somalia, installing strict Islamic laws called sharia.
The Islamists say they are only trying to bring law and order to a country, which has been without a functioning government for more than 15 years.
But neighboring Ethiopia and the United States have accused several top members of the Islamist movement of harboring al-Qaida operatives suspected of carrying out the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, and of trying to turn Somalia into a haven for anti-Western terrorists.
The authors of the report called on the international community to better enforce the U.N.'s widely-ignored 1992 arms embargo on Somalia. It also urged the U.N. Security Council to, among other things, enact a land, sea, and air blockade of the country and to freeze the assets of Somali businesses linked to weapons violations.