July 2, 2006 (MOGADISHU) — A leading Islamic cleric Sunday called on Somalis to prepare to fight Ethiopian troops alleged to have entered Somalia, where Islamic militias now control a significant portion of the country.
- Sheikh Sharrif Sheikh Ahmed
Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who chairs the executive council of the Islamists who control with their allies most of southern Somalia, also denied any ties with al-Qaida - a day after Osama bin Laden warned al-Qaida will fight any foreign troops that enter Somalia.
Several residents in the border town of Beled-Hawo said that about 100 troops from neighboring Ethiopia had crossed into their town Saturday.
In recent weeks, neighboring Ethiopia’s troops had entered the country’s southwestern region of Gedo and the central region of Hiraan, Ahmed said.
"Ethiopians have been illegally crossing our border since earlier last month and now they are in some parts of our territory but, God willing, they will regret," said Ahmed.
He asked Somalis to come together and confront what he described as, "the enemy number one of the Somali people," referring to Ethiopia.
Ethiopia hasn’t responded to the recent allegations, but it has denied in the past sending troops into Somalia.
Thousands of Somalis have taken to the streets in recent weeks to denounce alleged interference by Ethiopia, their longtime enemy. The Islamic militia said last month that 300 Ethiopian soldiers had entered the country.
But the president of Somalia’s secular interim government, Abdullahi Yusuf, is allied with Ethiopia and has asked for its support. Ethiopia has intervened in Somalia in the past to prevent Islamic extremists from taking power.
In an Internet posting Saturday, bin Laden lashed out at Yusuf, calling him a "traitor" and a "renegade." He also had a stern warning for leaders of any countries, including Islamic ones, against getting involved in Somalia’s conflict.
"We pledge that we will fight your soldiers on the land of Somalia and we will fight you on your own land if you dispatch troops to Somalia."
Somalia’s transitional government has asked for African peacekeepers, including Sudan, to be sent to the country, something that the Islamic militia have opposed.
Ismail Hurreh, one of Somalia’s several deputy prime ministers, told The Associated Press that bin Laden has been involved in Somalia since 1992, taking advantage of the country’s lawlessness and anarchy and forming terrorist cells.
"The current tape indicates his new objective in Somalia ... The government will not accept Somalia becoming another Afghanistan," said Hurreh, who is also regional cooperation minister.
The interim government is internationally recognized but wields no real power outside its base in Baidoa, 250 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu. And the increasing power of the Islamic militia has further marginalized the U.N.-backed government.
In the weeks since the Islamists took over most of southern Somalia last month, there were signs their rule might be moderate. The group agreed to recognize the interim government and stop all military action.
But last weekend, it replaced a relatively moderate cleric as its leader with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is on the U.S. terrorist watchlist as a suspected al-Qaida collaborator.
The militia then announced it wouldn’t consult anybody about its rule.
Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.