Wednesday, June 13, 2007

US Military Planning New Airstrikes Against Somalia: Puntland Targeted Again

MOGADISHU 12 June 2007 Sapa-AFP


US warplanes are overflying the northern Somali region of
Puntland in preparation for air-strikes against suspected Al-Qaeda fugitives, more than a week after US warships shelled the area, officials said Tuesday.

The semi-autonomous regional government had authorised the
overflights to pursue Al-Qaeda members believed to be hiding in the moutainous area, Puntland's security minister Ibrahim Artan Ismail told reporters.

"We know that American warplanes are overflying Puntland
territory. This air surveillance is part of an agreement reached between Puntland authorities and the Americans," Islamil told a news conference in northern Somali town of Bosasso.

"The warplanes are looking for Al-Qaeda hideouts and when they get them, they will bomb them," he said, adding that the air operation covers areas where intelligence shows Al-Qaeda elements are hiding.

Residents told Somali media that US planes have been overfying the area.

Ismail asked residents of the inland mountanious areas and the hilly shoreline "not to worry about planes flying over them". This statement was made by Ismail despite the hundreds of Somali civilians who have been killed by US warplanes and ships over the last several months.

A US navy destroyer shelled the coast on June 2, killing at
least 12 purported 'Islamist fighters', including foreigners, who were believed to be allied to extremist groups, Puntland officials said.

CNN reported that the destroyer was targeting a suspected
Al-Qaeda operative believed to have been involved in the 1998
attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224
people. Yet no concrete evidence has been presented to the international community that would verify that these individuals are residing in this region of Somalia.

Earlier this year, a US plane bombed positions in southern
Somalia after Ethiopia-backed Somali government forces ousted a powerful Islamist movement from the country's southern and central regions. Local elders said more than 100 civilians were killed. The US backed the invasion of Somalia which has resulted in the dislocation of thousands of civilians.

According to the US-backed elements in the region, the targets were suspected Al-Qaeda operatives blamed both for the 1998 US embassy bombings and the 2002 suicide attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in the Kenyan port of Mombasa that killed 15 people.

Among the so-called "high value" Al-Qaeda militants believed to be in Somalia are Fazul Abdullah Mohammed from the Comoros, Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan and Sudanese national Abu Taha al-Sudani, an arms expert believed to be close to Osama bin Laden.

Others are Sheikh Dahir Aweys, the cleric heading
Somalia's Islamic Courts Union, and Adan Hashi Ayro, the commander of the Islamists' militia wing, the Shabaab.

A US force is based in Djibouti and patrols the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden as part of the US-led "war on terror".

US intelligence says Al-Qaeda has stepped up operations in
Somalia, a nation of about 10 million people wracked by lawlessness since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Somalia's Puntland and neighbouring Somaliland regions have
declared a form of autonomy and have enjoyed relative stability compared to Somalia proper, which has been wracked by lawlessness since 1991.

Somali conference postponed again

Twice-delayed Somali reconciliation talks set for 14 June have again been postponed, the organisers say.

The chairman of the organising committee, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, says the talks were postponed "due to unforeseen circumstances".

The conference is meant to initiate dialogue between rival clans and factions in the war-torn country.

The decision comes a day after Islamists and the prominent Hawiye clan said they would not attend the talks.

Speaking to the press, Mr Mahdi said the committee had received requests from some clans to postpone the talks to allow more time to choose delegates.

The conference, originally scheduled for April, will now be held on 15 July.

Hawiye elders agreed to a ceasefire in April after the worst violence the capital had seen in 16 years.

A leader of the ousted Islamists said the conference could not take place until Ethiopian troops withdraw from the country.

Meanwhile, a BBC correspondent says one person was killed in Mogadishu when Ethiopian troops opened fire on civilians after a grenade attack on one of their military convoys.

The Somali Dayniile website says the soldiers arrested people who were in the area where the explosion occurred and took them to an undisclosed location.

Ethiopian troops have been in Somalia since December, when they helped government troops oust the Union of Islamic Courts.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/06/13 10:09:23 GMT

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