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US Says al-Qaida Elements Running Somali Islamic Movement

The U.S. State Department's top diplomat for Africa says al-Qaida figures are now running the Islamic Courts movement which controls most of Somalia. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer says U.S. diplomats are working to try to prevent the conflict in Somalia from becoming a broader war in the Horn of Africa. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

In a bleak assessment of the Somali situation, Assistant Secretary Frazer says radicals including al-Qaida figures have taken control of the Islamic Courts movement, and that it may be too late for a plan approved by the U.N. Security Council earlier this month to stabilize the situation.

On December 6, the Security Council approved a resolution granting an exemption to the U.N. arms embargo on Somalia to allow an East African military mission to enter the country and shore up the country's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) based in Baidoa which is under siege from the Islamic Courts.

Uganda has agreed to take part in what is termed a protection and training mission by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD, but the process of assembling the force has been slow.

In a talk with reporters, Assistant Secretary Frazer said the United States has lent diplomatic support to the effort, but that it may be too late to achieve the objective of Resolution 1725 - to bolster the transitional government in order to prompt the Union of Islamic Courts to return to talks on the country's future:

"It could possibly be too late," said Jendayi Frazer. "And I think we need to be very clear that the Africans believe they asked for this two and a half years ago. When the TFG first went back to Somalia from Nairobi, they asked for this exemption. And so there are some African countries that will definitely state that we waited too late."

Frazer said the United States has had contacts with the more moderate elements of the Islamic movement, which seized the Somali capital of Mogadishu in June and has steadily broadened the territory under its control.

However she said radicals have been ascendant in the movement in recent months and that local members of the al-Qaida terrorist organization are now in charge and fueling its aggressive military posture.

"The Council of Islamic Courts is now controlled by al-Qaida cell individuals, east Africa al-Qaida cell individuals," she said. "The top layer of the courts are extremist to the core. They are terrorists and they are in control. They are creating this logic of war, and that's a problem."

The United States believes that al-Qaida members who were behind the 1998 truck bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam are in Somalia.

Frazer said apprehending them remains a major priority of U.S. policy, though she said there were no plans for the use of American military force in Somalia to capture them or dislodge the al-Qaeda figures among the Islamic Courts leadership.

Under questioning, Frazer said the United States does not support intervention in Somalia by either neighboring Ethiopia, which has been aiding the transitional government, or Eritrea which has backed the Islamic Courts, and said U.N. Resolution 1725 is expressly designed to prevent it.

She said in addition to getting aid from Eritrea, the Islamic Courts movement has gotten millions of dollars in financial support from sources in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen and that the United States has raised the matter with those governments.