Int'l terrorists caught in Somalia ops

Earlier, US targets al-Qaida cell wanted for two 1998 US embassy bombings.

US air force 88 (photo credit: )
US air force 88
(photo credit: )
Ethiopia's prime minister said in an interview published Tuesday that suspected terrorists from Canada, Britain, Pakistan and elsewhere had been among those taken prisoner or killed in the military operations in Somalia. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was quoted by French newspaper Le Monde as saying that he didn't know the exact number of prisoners in Somalia "because it changes constantly. But many international terrorists are dead in Somalia," Meles was quoted as saying. "Photographs have been taken and passports from different countries have been collected. The Kenyans are holding Eritrean and Canadian passport holders. We have injured people coming from Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan, the United Kingdom," Meles added. A spokeswoman at the British Foreign office said it could not confirm reports that British passport holders have been involved in the fighting in Somalia. However, she said her government was in touch with Somali and Ethiopian authorities and would continue to look into such reports. Earlier, a US airstrike in Somalia targeted an al-Qaida cell wanted for two 1998 US embassy bombings and killed a large number of Islamic extremists, government officials released. The attacks by a heavily armed AC-130 gunship came after the terror suspects were spotted hiding on a remote island on the southern tip of Somalia, close to the Kenyan border, Somali officials said. It is the first overt military action by the US in Somalia since the 1990s and the legacy of a botched intervention - known as "Black Hawk Down" - that left 18 US servicemen dead. "The US were trying to kill the al-Qaida terrorists who carried out the bomb attacks on their embassies in Kenya and Tanzania," Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Aideed told The Associated Press. "They have our full support for the attacks." The US airstrike comes 16 days after Ethiopia forces invaded Somalia to prevent an Islamic movement ousting the weak, internationally recognized government from its lone stronghold in the west of the country. The US and Ethiopia both accuse the Islamic group of harboring extremists, among them al-Qaida suspects. Ethiopian troops, tanks and warplanes took just 10 days to drive the Islamic group from the capital, Mogadishu, and other key towns. Meanwhile the US military said Tuesday it had sent an aircraft carrier to join three other US warships conducting anti-terror operations off the Somali coast. US warships have been seeking to capture al-Qaida members thought to be fleeing Somalia in the wake of Ethiopia's Dec. 24 invasion. The US attacks took place on Monday afternoon on Badmadow island. The area is known as Ras Kamboni and is suspected to be a terror training base. "The strike was carried out after it had been confirmed that al-Qaida members are hiding there in the area," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said. "We don't know how many people were killed in the attack but we understand there were a lot of casualties," he said. "Most were Islamic fighters." Witnesses said at least four civilians were killed in the attack, including a small boy. The claims could not be independently verified. "My 4-year-old boy was killed in the strike," Mohamed Mahmud Burale told the AP by telephone. "The plane was firing at other areas in Ras Kamboni. We could see smoke from the area. We also heard 14 massive explosions." After two days of fierce fighting, Ethiopian and Somali forces say they are on the verge of capturing Ras Kamboni, where they say the Islamic movement is cornered. US officials said after the September 11 attacks that extremists with ties to al-Qaida operated a training camp at Ras Kamboni and al-Qaida members are believed to have visited it. The alleged mastermind of the embassy bombings in East Africa, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, escaped to Ras Kamboni, according to testimony from one of the convicted bombers. Mohammed is believed to be the leader of the al-Qaida East Africa cell. Leaders of the Islamic movement have vowed from their hideouts to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war in Somalia, and al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden's deputy has called on militants to carry out suicide attacks on the Ethiopian troops. On Monday Somalia's interim president, Abdullahi Yusuf, entered the restive capital for the first time since his election in a country riven by more than a decade of anarchy. Many people in predominantly Muslim Somalia resent the presence of troops from neighboring Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population and has fought two brutal wars with Somalia, most recently in 1977. Somalia has not had an effective central government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, sinking the Horn of Africa nation of 7 million people into chaos. At least 13 attempts at government have failed since then. The current government was established in 2004 with UN backing. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday that a UN peacekeeping force may be needed to guarantee security and stability in Somalia. He said Ugandan forces may be the first deployed to replace Ethiopian troops. Jendayi Frazer, the US assistant secretary of state for Africa, said Sunday that the United States would use its diplomatic and financial resources to support the government. The US has pledged US$40 million (€31 million) in political, humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance. The African Union has begun planning for a peacekeeping force, and Uganda has promised at least 1,000 soldiers. Frazer has said she hopes the first troops will begin arriving in Mogadishu before the end of the month. Ethiopia forces invaded Somalia last month to prevent an Islamic movement from ousting the weak, internationally recognized government from its lone stronghold in the west of the country. The US and Ethiopia both accuse the Islamic group of harboring extremists, among them al-Qaida suspects.