MOGADISHU, Somalia, (AP) – The Somali government on Saturday said it was indefinitely postponing a mandatory disarmament program, while Islamic fighters hiding in Mogadishu said they will heed an al-Qaeda call for guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings against Ethiopian troops.
Abdirahman Dinari, spokesman for Somalia’s transitional government, told The Associated Press that the prime minister “has decided to postpone disarming people by force until an unspecified time.” Thursday had been the deadline for residents to voluntarily give up their arms.
Dozens of residents burned tires and looted vehicles Saturday to protest the plans to forcibly disarm them, shouting “Down, down with Ethiopia,” in reference to troops from the neighboring country that have been instrumental in routing an Islamic militia from much of southern Somalia.
Meanwhile, Islamic fighters in hiding said they would heed a call from Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s deputy, for guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings against Ethiopian troops whose intervention was key to the Islamists’ defeat.
“I am committed to die for the sake of my religion and the al-Qaeda deputy’s speech only encourages me to go ahead with my holy war,” 18-year-old Sahal Abdi in Mogadishu told The Associated Press.
In a message aired Friday on a Web site frequently used by militants, al-Zawahri urged the Islamic movement’s fighters and other Muslims to attack the troops of Christian-dominated Ethiopia, which he called a “crusader” invasion force.
“Launch ambushes, land mines, raids and suicidal combats until you consume them as the lions and eat their prey,” al-Zawahri said.
Ethiopian soldiers, tanks and warplanes intervened in Somalia on Dec. 24 to defeat an Islamic movement that threatened to overthrow the internationally recognized government, which at the time controlled only the western town of Baidoa. But Ethiopia’s government wants to pull out in a few weeks, saying its forces cannot be peacekeepers and it cannot afford for them to stay.
Somalia is trying to train its own military and police while the plan for an international force is put in place.
The Islamic movement has vowed to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war, raising the prospect of bloody reprisals against foreign peacekeepers. Somalia’s interior minister said Thursday that 3,500 Islamic fighters were still hiding in the capital, Mogadishu.
Kenya closed its border amid fears militants would slip across the frontier. The United Nations said thousands of refugees were also near the border, unable to seek safety in Kenya.
A meeting of U.S., European Union, African and Arab diplomats ended in Kenya on Friday with a U.S. pledge to provide $40 million to Somalia in political, humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance, and a plan to ask more African nations to send troops to help stabilize the country. Uganda has pledged at least 1,000 peacekeepers.
The EU said it also would help pay for a peacekeeping force envisioned at 8,000 soldiers.
On Friday, U.S. warships patrolled offshore to prevent militiamen from escaping by sea.
The U.S. 5th Fleet said vessels were being boarded to look for militants, including three al-Qaeda suspects wanted for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. The Islamic council has denied U.S. allegations that the three were leaders in the Somali movement.