Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – The United States is enlisting the help or armed militiamen and factional leaders in its campaign to track down five al Qaeda members in hiding in Somalia.
CIA agents have asked local Somali chiefs to assist them in their search, according to a high-ranking official in the transitional Somali government. He told Asharq al Awsat in a telephone conversation his government had information that a series of meetings were held between US government representatives and tribal and militia leaders in order to prepare for a large-scale operation to detain the five men. At least three of them are believed to hold non-Somali passports, the official added.
The official, who asked not be identified, said Prime Minister Mohammed Ghedi had repeatedly requested the U.S authorities refrain from contacting any Somali group or individual without his government’s knowledge.
The latest US campaign comes amid fear of an imminent clash in Mogadishu between militants loyal to the Islamic religious courts and other militias belonging to the anti-terrorism coalition, which the interim government claims is financially and logistically supported by the Americans.
For its part, US intelligence says Sheikh Taher Uways, one of the most prominent extremist Somali leaders, is harboring terrorists in the area under his militias’ control in the Somali capital.
Uways denied these accusations in a telephone conversation with Asharq al Awsat and blamed the US for holding a grudge against the Somali people. The 60-year old said al Qaeda maintained no presence in Somalia as the tribal system in place made it impossible for foreigners to hide in a country ravaged by civil war. Al Qaeda’s existence in Somalia was a figment of the US’s imagination, he added.
Wanted by the Ethiopian and US intelligence services in connection with his support for terrorist activity, Uways said he was being accused for championing an Islamic government in Somalia. He has fiercely opposed plans by the current interim government to request peacekeepers from neighboring countries, especially Ethiopia, describing them as an occupation force.