Counter-Terrorism: Somalia and Iran

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February21, 2007: UN and American counter-terror investigators are trying to uncover the foreign supporters of the Islamic Courts movement in Somalia. With the Islamic Courts broken by an Ethiopian invasion last December, investigators are able to question a lot of people, and they are getting some interesting answers. Last May, the Islamic Courts militias began moving into the countrys largest city, Mogadishu. The Islamic Courts were a movement of clans that had adopted the use of Islamic Courts (groups of clerics and elders who decided disputes and tried criminals). This was in response to the anarchy that had overtaken the country since the government (a dictatorship that no one missed) was overthrown in 1990. The dozens of clans could not agree on forming a new government, and the country has endured clan and warlord violence ever since.

The Islamic Courts movement was also a growing group of clans whose leaders were willing to give up some of their arbitrary power in order to reduce the chaos and lawlessness that existed in most of the country. However, before that, most of northern Somalia had broken away and formed two new states (Puntland and Sonaliland), via clan coalitions that simply agreed to cooperate, and talk, rather than fight, to settle disputes. The Islamic Courts, however, attracted a large number of religious zealots, including some who had been associated with al Qaeda. Once the Islamic Courts controlled Mogadishu, more foreign Islamic radicals began to show up. Of special interest to investigators was the role of nearby Eritrea. By July, Russian made transports were flying weapons into Mogadishu, via Eritrea. Some of the foreigners who showed up were traced back to Syria, Libya and Saudi Arabia. There were also weapons shipments from Iran, and the presence of some Iranians. At the moment, the only government involvement was from Eritrea, which, of course, denies it all. The people from other foreign countries were private citizens, but some were working with organizations (Islamic charities and "cultural" groups) associated with supporting Islamic radicalism.

What appears to have happened was that many pro-Islamic radical groups were keeping an eye on the Islamic Courts, and many of the "foreign volunteers" were basically there to report back on what shape the Islamic Courts movement was in. Once Mogadishu was taken, the reports apparently became very positive. That's because, after June, a lot more money, weapons and people came in to help the Islamic Courts. The idea, apparently, was that the Islamic Courts were another Taliban, and Somalia was turning into another Taliban run Afghanistan. The Islamic Courts leadership proved too unstable to pull this off. Some of the more radical Islamic Courts stirred up trouble with Ethiopia, which led to the Ethiopian intervention. There are still Somali clans that favor the Islamic Courts approach. But for the moment, the secular Transitional Government movement is on top. But in Somalia, no one stays on top of the pile for long.

 


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