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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 18:30 GMT
Somalis worried at reports of US strikes
By the BBC's Africa Analyst Elizabeth Blunt

The United States has said that its war against terrorism would not end in Afghanistan but will be pursued against its enemies wherever they are.

This has raised alarm in Somalia where the US has frozen the funds of the main remittance bank for suspected links with al-Qaeda and where people fear they may be the next on the American hit list.


Somalia has been off the map of the world for some time. Very few diplomats have visited Somalia, very few governments have up-to-date reports and in this vacuum a lot of rumours can get around.

David Stephen, UN official to Somalia

Somalia may still be a patchwork of feuding factions, but when a BBC team visited Mogadishu last week it found everyone united in asserting that there were no terrorist training camps in the country and that any American attack would be a great mistake.

Osman Ali Atto, one of the warlords holding part of the capital, said: "I don't believe the Americans would be so irresponsible. Where is the terrorist? You show me one. If there are, they are very few, not anything that can scare the Americans off."

But the fear is real.

Discreet departure

Reports from Mogadishu talk about people leaving town - anyone who has ever had anything to do with al-Qaeda or associated groups is discreetly arranging to be elsewhere.

Some contacts undoubtedly exist.

Like-minded Islamic radical groups - the one most frequently mentioned is al-Ittihad - are believed to have received financial support from outside.

al-Barakaat hoarding
US says there are alternatives to al-Barakaat

Various projects in Somalia have benefited from Islamic charities, some of whom have links with al-Qaeda.

But al-Ittihad has fragmented and is no longer the force it was.

The most worrying accusation is that al-Qaeda runs training camps in Somalia, perhaps in the very disturbed area near the Kenyan border where it is difficult for most Somalis, and impossible for foreigners, to know what is going on.

Dubious claims

One of the outsiders best placed to assess the truth of the allegations is David Stephen, the UN secretary general's special representative for Somalia - and he is dubious.

"Somalia has been off the political map of the world for some time. Very few diplomats have visited Somalia, very few governments have up to date reports, and in this vacuum a lot of rumours can get around," he says.

Mr Stephen adds: "I can't comment on the specific rumours - all I will say is that there is a lot of speculation. No one has come up with evidence which I have found convincing that there are, for example, terrorist camps in Somalia."

He warns that Somalis are so poor and so frustrated that American intervention could provoke the kind of militant action the United States is fighting.

This is an idea which also haunts Somalia's interim president, Dr Abdiqasim Salad Hassan.

Counter-productive

"It will be a mistake of great proportions. Of course the reaction will be negative. It will be a breeding ground for all sorts of terrorists, who may pretend to defend the state and come to Somalia after that intervention."

Interim president Abdulkassim Salat Hassan
Hassan is a worried man

"They are not present right now, but they may say that they are coming to help their brothers in Somalia," Mr Stephen says.

President Abdulkassim Salat Hassan is a worried man, whose control of Somali territory is already fragile, and who now faces the worrying prospect of becoming America's next target.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tom McKinley
"Angry crowds claim that Bush has stolen their money"
See also:

23 Nov 01 | Africa
US shuts down Somalia internet
08 Nov 01 | Africa
Somali company 'not terrorist'
15 Nov 01 | Africa
Somalia: The land of opportunity
17 Oct 01 | Africa
Starvation threat in Somalia
26 Sep 01 | Africa
US targets Somali group
24 Sep 01 | Africa
UN pulls out of Somalia
21 Sep 01 | Africa
Somalia rejects Bin Laden link
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