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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 June 2006, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
US cool on Somali terror denial
Islamic Court militia
The Islamic courts are the strongest force in Somalia
The United States has said it will "reserve judgement" after the Islamist militia in charge of the Somali capital strongly denied supporting terrorism.

A US State Department spokesman said the Union of Islamic Courts was not a "monolithic" group.

The Islamist leader on Wednesday tried to calm western fears by sending a letter to foreign diplomats saying they were not "harbouring any terrorists".

The courts seized Mogadishu from warlords believed to have US backing.

The US has neither confirmed nor denied reports that they supported the Anti-Terror Alliance of warlords.

But on Tuesday, US President George W Bush said he would ensure that Somalia did not become a safe haven for al-Qaeda.

Popular

Meanwhile, Islamic courts chairman Sharif Shaikh Ahmed has told Reuters news agency that his forces have no plans to attack the town of Jowhar, some 90km (58miles) north of the capital, where some of the remaining warlords have fled.

"We are monitoring the coalition militia movements. If they attack us, we will of course answer them," he said.

On Wednesday, they were reported to have ordered a halt to any flights from the airport there to prevent any warlords fleeing.

BBC Somali Service editor Yusuf Garaad Omar says the Islamists are generally far more popular than the warlords, who are hated for their role in Somalia's 15-year civil war.

On Wednesday, a senior interim minister said he expected the Union of Islamic Courts to eventually join them in government.

The deputy head of the government based in the town of Baidoa, Ismail Mahmoud, said contacts had been taking place.

The transitional government only controls a small part of Somalia, which has not had a functioning national authority for 15 years.

Arrest

Mr Ahmed's letter to diplomats said: "We categorically deny and reject any accusation that we are harbouring any terrorists or supporters of terrorism in the areas where the courts operate...

Islamic court chairman Sharif Shaikh Ahmed
Sharif Shaikh Ahmed is seen as a relative moderate

"We share no objectives, goals or methods with groups that sponsor or support terrorism."

Mr Ahmed is seen as a relative moderate, while at least two senior figures are considered to be more radical - Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is on the US list of terror suspects, and Afghanistan-trained militia commander Adan Hashi Ayro.

One of the Somali warlords was arrested and deported from Kenya, after it said it would no longer host those who "destabilise" its lawless neighbour.

Abdirashid Shire Ilgayte, a member of the alliance defeated by an Islamic militia in recent fighting, was led from his Nairobi hotel by police.

Kenya has played host to Somali peace talks involving almost all faction leaders, for the past three years.




VOTE RESULTS
Will the Mogadishu warlords' defeat bring peace to Somalia?
Yes
 51.65% 
No
 48.35% 
7260 Votes Cast
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