U.N. Report Cites Outside Military Aid to Somalia's Islamic Forces

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 14 -- Iran, Syria, Libya, Egypt and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon are providing arms, training and financing to Islamic militants as they seize political and military control in the East African state of Somalia, according to a confidential U.N. report.

The 86-page report, prepared by a panel of U.N. weapons and financial experts, warned that the conflict could reignite a war between Eritrea, the chief foreign sponsor of the Islamics, and Ethiopia, which is backing Somalia's weak transitional federal government.

The report asserts that a huge inflow of outside military assistance, in violation of a U.N. arms embargo, is contributing to the emergence of an alliance of militants called the Islamic Courts Union as the first Islamic government since the United States overthrew Afghanistan's Taliban in 2002. It warns that Somalia could become the site of insurgency tactics used in Iraq, including "suicide bombers, assassinations and other forms of terrorist and insurgent-type activities."

"The strongly sustained trend toward total military, economic and political dominance by the Islamic Courts Union in central and southern Somalia continues," according to the report by the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia, which will be presented to the Security Council this week. "They are currently the most powerful force in Somalia."

The report was obtained Tuesday by The Washington Post; it was first reported Monday by Reuters. The report's authors recommend that the Security Council tighten a U.N. arms embargo, impose sanctions on Somali individuals and businesses buying weapons, and launch an international diplomatic effort to dissuade states from arming the combatants.

The developments in Somalia represent a setback for the United States, which had sought to prevent the militants from taking power. But the report provided no evidence to suggest that the United States provided clandestine support to anti-Islamic forces, as officials in Somalia's interim government have alleged.

It did, however, underscore the degree to which the United States' chief Middle East rivals, Iran and Syria, and its allies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are prepared to challenge U.S. interests in East Africa.

The U.N. team detailed three Iranian consignments of arms, ammunition, medical supplies and doctors to the Islamic fighters since summer. The report says one July shipment included land mines, 1,000 machine guns and M-79 rocket launchers, and 45 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. The report also says two Iranian nationals were negotiating the possibility of selling more weapons for access to Somalia's uranium deposits.

The report asserts that Syria has trained 200 Somali fighters in guerrilla warfare tactics and that Libya has provided arms and advanced military training to another 100. Libya also allegedly provided $1 million to finance future training missions and to pay salaries.

Iran and Syria denied in separate letters to the U.N. team that they had shipped weapons to Somalia or trained Somali forces. The U.N. team did not receive a response from the Libyan government. Representatives from the Islamic Courts Union said the allegations that they had received illegal arms shipments are "baseless."

To shore up support for their cause, Somalia's Islamic fighters provided military support in the summer to Hezbollah, sending 720 of its most experienced fighters to help battle Israeli forces, according to the report. The fighters were promised $2,000 in payments to their families for serving, and as much as $30,000 if they fell in battle.

In exchange for their backing, Hezbollah allegedly provided advanced training to Somali fighters and sent five Hezbollah advisers to Somalia. It also allegedly solicited support for the movement from Iran and Syria.

The report cites a case in which Egypt agreed to train Somalia's Islamic militants. And it accuses Saudi Arabia of providing several shipments of food and medicine to Islamic combatants. Egypt denied the allegation; Saudi Arabia has yet to fully respond to the charges.

The report asserts that the most flagrant violations of the U.N. arms embargo have been committed by Eritrea and Ethiopia, which have sent dozens of weapons shipments and thousands of combat troops into Somalia on behalf of their proxies. It also charged that Uganda and Yemen had joined Ethiopia in supporting Somalia's losing Transitional Federal Government.

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