Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- While hard-line Islamist leaders were asserting that the interim authority led by Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad was heading toward collapse, heavily-armed Ethiopian forces backed by armored vehicles entered the country yesterday, according to eyewitnesses, in a move that is apparently connected to the recent advance of the Somali Islamist rebels toward the capital Mogadishu. But the Addis Ababa Government rushed to deny the report and stressed through its minister of state for media affairs Armias Leges that “no Ethiopian soldier” had entered Somali territories.
On the other hand, Dr. Abu-Bakr Iman Omar, leader of the Islamic Party which is opposed to the Somali president, said the interim authority was heading toward collapse and told Asharq Al-Awsat that the “causes and developments point to this, among them the fact that a large number of government officials and parliament members have left the authority’s premises in Mogadishu.” He added: “When the resistance pressured the government, a large number of parliamentarians left and traveled abroad and Islamic Courts members who were loyal to the government have returned and joined the resistance. Only the militias are left for this government and the latter would not have lasted a single minute were it not for the African Union’s tanks.”
He denied to this newspaper the reports that hundreds of Al-Qaeda organization members were involved in the recent bloody clashes between the resistance and government forces and said the Western classification of “Al-Qaeda” accuses all Muslims of joining this organization just because they pray and added: “But if they are talking about this organization that is present in mountains which are very far from us, then this is a lie. Neither Al-Qaeda nor its elements are present in the country.”
But Somali and Western sources told Asharq al-Awsat that local citizens and intelligence reports talked about pro-Al-Qaeda elements, some of them Sudanese and Pakistanis, distributing videotapes of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in some areas that are under the Islamist rebels’ control. The sources said the organization is trying to exploit the political and security anarchy and the prevailing situation in Somalia so as to find a safe haven for its internationally-chased cadres.
On his part, the Somali capital’s mayor who is loyal to the interim president told Asharq Al-Awsat that the capital would not fall into the Islamists’ hands and disclosed a security plan aimed at regaining control of all the capital and expelling the rebels from it. Mohammed Osman Dahtahur added in a telephone contact from the city: “Contrary to the tendentious media’s reports, the president, the government, and parliament are still in the city and have not left it. On the other side, Sheikh Hassan Tahir Uways, leader of the opposition alliance, and the Youth Movement’s leaders have left the capital and preparing to flee.” He pointed out that the Somali people are preparing to purge the capital from the rebels but did not give details of this plan which he said it is being prepared. He added that “the people saw the rebels dealing with foreigners who have come from Asian and European countries and therefore it is the people who will expel them and we will restore our control of the capital soon. The entire capital is in our hand apart from some deserted quarters. But this does not mean we are losing control of the city. All these are just lies, misleading information, and falsehoods.”