US Officials spread fears over advance of Somali Islamists

Senator Russ Feingold, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, released a statement saying he is “deeply concerned” by insurgent militias gaining more territory near Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu.


Reportedly the insurgents took over several towns, including the strategic port of Merka. They now control most of the country, aside from Puntland and Somaliland.


The senator stated, “it has been clear for years that continued instability in Somalia provides a breeding ground for radicalization and violent extremism that threaten our country.”


“Unfortunately, the Bush administration’s failure to develop a comprehensive strategy to stabilize Somalia has allowed this crisis to fester and threats to grow. We need a plan to help bring stability and defeat extremism in this critical region of the world,” he added.


Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconson, in July called the situation in Somalia “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” an opinion shared by top U.N. officials.


In his statement on Monday, the congressman echoed the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Michael Hayden, who on Thursday voiced concern about alleged and potential ties between al-Qa’ida terrorist organization and Somali Islamist insurgents, foremost the al-Shabaab militias, which the United States designates a terrorist organization.


Hayden claimed that “the leader of the al-Shabaab terrorist group is closely tied to al-Qa’ida. And the recent bombings in Somalia may have meant, at least in part, may have been meant to strengthen the bona fides of this group with al-Qa’ida’s senior leaders.”


The U.S. Military Academy’s Harmony Project published captured al-Qa’ida internal communications, including from operatives in Somali regions of eastern Africa. Despite this study’s revelations that al-Qa’ida had exceedingly poor operational abilities in Somali areas in the 1990s, many Western officials warn of Somali connections with al-Qa’ida.


Hayden admitted on Thursday that “there clearly has not yet been an official merger” between al-Shabaab and al-Qa’ida. But he went on to speculate that “a merger between al-Shabaab and al-Qa’ida could give Somali extremists much needed funding while al-Qa’ida could then claim to be re-establishing its operations based in East Africa. That’s a base that was severely disrupted about two years ago when Ethiopia moved into Somalia.”


The unusual public remarks from the intelligence chief come as Islamist militias are gaining territory in south-central Somalia. The Islamic Courts Union, which defeated a CIA-backed coalition of warlords in Mogadishu in 2006, was toppled by a U.S.-approved Ethiopian invasion in Dec. 2006, but the Islamist coalition and other affiliates have carried on fighting the Ethiopians and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) since that time.


The Ethiopians are now withdrawing and the president of the TFG, the Somali faction internationally recognized as the official government, Abdullahi Yusuf, said Saturday that his organization now controls only small beleaguered areas of Mogadishu and Baidoa.


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