Somali Islamic militia takes Mogadishu
MOGADISHU, June 5: Islamic militia appeared to control Mogadishu today after winning a bloody three-month battle against warlords who have run the Somali capital for 15 years.
The warlords are widely believed to be covertly backed by a US administration concerned, according to former U.S.
intelligence officials, that Islamist rulers could provide a save haven for al Qaeda akin to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Many fled today to other parts of Somalia or neighbouring Kenya.
The Islamic side, which supports sharia courts in Mogadishu, announced they controlled the city in radio broadcasts and public meetings. Both residents and some members of the warlords' own militia said the city was in Islamic hands.
''The era of warlords in Somalia is over,'' resident Mohamed Asser said. ''This morning Mogadishu is under only one hand, the Islamic courts.'' The chaos in Mogadishu, battered by weeks of artillery duels, made it difficult to verify Islamic control of the city.
If confirmed, it would be the first time control of all of the city had been wrested from Somalia's powerful warlords since they ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, ushering in years of extreme violence and anarchy.
Around 350 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in street battles since February between the Islamic militia and a self-styled anti-terrorism coalition of warlords.
Many analysts view the violence as a proxy war between the United States and Islamic militants. Many Somalis have moved to the Islamic side because of Washington's perceived support for the warlords, residents say.
John Prendergast, who monitors Somalia for the think-tank International Crisis Group, said he had learned from warlord alliance members in Somalia that the CIA was financing them with cash payments of 0,000 to 0,000 per month.
US intelligence has produced no firm evidence of active al Qaeda presence in Somalia, experts said in Washington. But there have been reports of al Qaeda members in the country, including suspects in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa.
Sharia courts have gained popularity by restoring a semblance of order to parts of the chaotic capital. ''The Islamic courts announced they are in control of Mogadishu. They said they would work with residents to improve security in the capital,'' resident Ali Abdikadir told Reuters by telephone after attending a public meeting.
''This is good news for us because the warlords were always engaged in battles, we are looking forward to a life without fighting,'' he added.
Ali Nur, a warlord coalition militiaman, said members of the alliance were now fleeing. ''We have no immediate plans. Most of our leaders have fled Mogadishu to Jowhar,'' he said.
After the latest battle on Sunday, in which 18 people died, the Islamic militia took control of the strategic town of Balad, 30 km (20 miles) from Mogadishu.
The town controls the supply route from the warlord stronghold of Jowhar further north.
The Islamic fighters followed up on Monday by taking Dayniile, the last warlord stronghold in the capital.
RESIDENTS HOPE FOR CALM
Residents said Dayniile was taken without a fight. The area was a stronghold of top warlord Mohamed Qanyare, who left two days ago after local elders ordered him out to stop battles with mortars, rockets and anti-aircraft artillery that have caused heavy civilian casualties.
''The city is calm and we hope it will stay that way,'' 19-year old resident Samira Jama said.
Abdirahman Dinari, spokesman for Somalia's interim government, said he hoped for talks soon with the Islamic side.
''I hope the Islamic courts will realise the importance of the government and talk to us. We are ready to talk to them in order to prevent further suffering of the innocent Somali people,'' he told Reuters by telephone.
The government, based in the southern city of Baidoa, has been too weak to stop the fighting or enter the capital.
Fearing more fighting, the U.N. pulled staff out of Jowhar, which could be the next target for the Islamic side.
''There are fears of attacks in Jowhar and defence lines have been tightened,'' a U.N. security expert told Reuters.
Washington has not commented on persistent reports that it is covertly funnelling large sums of money to the warlords. But it says it will work with anyone combating terrorism.
The interim government late on Sunday sacked four warlord ministers, including Qanyare, who was in charge of internal security, for their role in the fighting.