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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 December 2006, 13:26 GMT
US wary of Somali 'terror' links
By Martin Plaut
BBC Africa analyst

Somali government soldiers
Somali government soldiers have advanced with Ethiopian backing
The United States has closely followed the gains made by Somali government forces, supported by Ethiopian armour and troops, against Islamist militiamen.

Washington is determined to prevent the spread of fundamentalist Islam to Africa and has been deeply concerned by the rise of the Union of Islamic Courts.

The US has seen the fight against terrorism as its highest priority in Africa ever since 7 August 1998, when two car bombs exploded outside the American embassies in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the explosions, which killed more than 250 people and left 4,000 wounded.

Since then US officials say they have found links between key supporters of the UIC, and the attacks on the US embassies.


"We continue to be concerned about the state of security in the sub-region in eastern Horn of Africa; the threat that in some ways Somalia poses in terms of criminality and arms coming out of there, as well as the issue of terrorists' safe haven," the US Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, said while visiting Kenya earlier this year.

The UIC leadership has denied links to al-Qaeda, but there is evidence to suggest that some supporters of the UIC were indeed connected to the embassy attacks.

The US developed a strategy to tackle the Islamists. First Washington supported the warlords who controlled the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

But in June the militia of the Islamic Courts drove out the warlords, who are believed to have escaped to an American ship waiting offshore.

Since then the US has given diplomatic backing to the Somali transitional government at the United Nations, pressing for an African peacekeeping force to be sent to strengthen its position.

The Americans have worked closely with Ethiopia, using troops based in neighbouring Djibouti.

There is no suggestion that American forces are involved in the current Ethiopian offensive in Somalia, but Washington has satellite images and intelligence information that would be extremely useful to Addis Ababa as it attempts to crack the Islamic Court's hold on Somalia.


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