Page last updated at 06:44 GMT, Sunday, 17 January 2010

Somalia and Yemen 'swapping militants'

By Martin Plaut
BBC Africa analyst

Al-Shabab rebels in Mogadishu, 1 January
Islamists control large parts of southern and central Somalia

A radical Somali Islamist group fighting to overthrow the government in Somalia says it is exchanging fighters with rebels in Yemen.

An al-Shabab spokesman told the BBC the group was sending forces to Yemen and receiving fighters in return because of its close links with the country.

Yemen has come under scrutiny after last month's failed US airliner attack was linked to militants in the country.

Al-Shabab controls swathes of southern and central Somalia.

Its ideology is based on a much more radical form of Islam than is traditionally practiced in Somalia, and the movement is accused of being an ally of al-Qaeda.

Al-Shabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Raage portrayed al-Shabab as no more than the organised arm of Islamic resistance to Western oppression.

He denied formal links with groups like al-Qaeda.

"What is al-Qaeda?" the Sheikh asked. "It is Muslim people who are massacred in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and other Islamic countries like Yemen."

A Muslim is the brother of other Muslims, he said, "so we and al-Qaeda share the Muslim faith and are fighting for freedom. That's all we share."

Sheikh Raage rules out talking to Somalia's Western-backed government, saying this can only take place when African Union forces present in the country leave.

He also warned that if American troops are ever sent to Somalia they will end up dead.

"They will suffer the same fate they did in 1993, when they were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu," he said.

Al-Shabab's message is one of unremitting hostility to Somalia's government and any form of Western involvement in the country.

"We are on that road, and we will be on that road for the rest of our lives," said the sheikh.

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