VIDEO SHOWS ARABS FIGHTING IN SOMALIA
By CHRIS TOMLINSON, Associated Press Writer Wed Jul 5, 5:57 PM ET
- A recruiting video issued by members of the fundamentalist Islamic movement in Somalia
shows Arab radicals fighting alongside the local extremists in Mogadishu,
and invites Muslims from around the world to join in their "holy jihad."
The video, obtained by The
Associated Press, provides the first hard evidence that non-Somalis have joined with Islamic extremists in Somalia.
The Supreme Islamic Courts
Council, which defeated U.S.-backed warlords in Mogadishu
last month and is now the country's most powerful force, has repeatedly denied links to extremists such as al-Qaida.
But the one-hour video appears
to confirm U.S. fears — and al-Qaida's President Bush
expressed concern last month that Somalia could become an al-Qaida haven like Afghanistan was in the late 1990s. And recordings attributed to Osama bin Laden portray Somalia as a battleground in
his war on the United States.
The videotape, produced
to both recruit new fighters and raise funds, glorifies the Islamic victory over U.S.-backed, secular warlords in Somalia. U.S.
officials cooperated with the warlords, hoping to capture three al-Qaida leaders allegedly protected by the Islamic council,
especially three men accused in the deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies
in Kenya and Tanzania.
Those singled out by the
United States include the courts council
leader, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, branded a terrorist by the Americans.
Aweys, speaking on Somali
radio over the weekend, said his movement had no contacts with bin Laden or al-Qaida. He also rejected accusations that foreign
fighters were in Somalia.
But the video, shot on a
handheld recorder, shows Arab fighters preparing for a major battle on the northern outskirts of Mogadishu. Arabic anthems and poetry play on the audio track urging Muslims to join the global
holy war to advance Islam and defeat its enemies.
The video starts with a
black flag featuring a Quranic verse and a saber fluttering in the wind. Such black banners have only recently appeared in
Somalia but have been used by Islamic extremists in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon for years.
After a few minutes of battle
footage, the tape documents the Arab fighters' predawn preparations for battle, including prayers, a commander's speech to
his troops and the preparation of weapons. The Arab fighters then climb onto two pickup trucks mounted with heavy machine
guns, which the Somalis call "technicals."
As the sun rises, the location
of the Arab camp north of Mogadishu becomes clear and six
more trucks loaded with Somali fighters come into view. A senior member of the Islamic group, Yusuf Indohaadde, is filmed
walking among the men before the pickups roll out of an old warehouse compound.
The rest of the footage
follows one group of Somali militiamen as they battle troops loyal to warlords who controlled Mogadishu
for 15 years and had ties to the United States.
The tape ends with the capture of Essaleh, a small town with strategic air and sea ports three miles north of Mogadishu.
Most of the tape's audio
is filled with Arabic prose and songs urging Muslims to join the holy war against the West, or recordings of speeches given
by Somali Islamic extremists. One of the voices speaking Somali is clearly not a native speaker.
There are also subtitles
in Arabic and Somali calling the battle part of "the sacred, holy jihad in Somalia"
and "the holy war that began in Somalia."
The tape is similar to other
videos produced by Islamic extremists in Iraq
and other countries where al-Qaida is active.
Evan Kohlmann, an international
terrorism consultant who closely follows statements and videos from militant Islamic groups, said the video has traits similar
to those produced by Islamic militants elsewhere in the world. If it is confirmed that Arab militants fought alongside likeminded
Somalis, it likely would affect how the international community treats the Islamic group.
"I think it is tremendously
significant and may be the determining piece of evidence that will decide U.S.
policy on Somalia," he said. "Sounds a
lot like al-Qaida when the Taliban were just getting started in Afghanistan."
Since the defeat of the
warlords, the United States has set up the International Somali Contact
Group to coordinate policy toward Somalia
with other interested nations. U.S. officials have said that counterrorism
is the primary focus of policy toward Somalia.