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Islamic Militants Rebound in Somalia

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The Associated Press
Friday, April 27, 2007; 1:46 PM

NAIROBI, Kenya -- A day after the Somalia's interim government claimed victory in its battle with Islamic militiamen in the capital, they were back Friday _ attacking a Mogadishu hotel used by top officials.

Driven from power last year by a Western-supported offensive, the Islamists have fresh recruits and new funding and are threatening to turn the country back into a haven for al-Qaida.

More than 1,400 people have been killed over the last month, 400 in the last five days, in violence caused at least in part by the militants, who have been infiltrating towns across the country.

At stake is the most strategically located nation in the Horn of Africa _ a lawless land that is a crossroads between the Middle East and Africa and dominates important sea lanes. A U.N.-supported government has tried to exert control, but has influence over only a tiny part of the territory.

The government's failure has opened the door for a resurgence by Islamic radicals who grabbed power for six months last year, filling Somalia's power vacuum with a strict religious government. Like the Taliban who once ruled Afghanistan and hosted Osama bin Laden, the Somali movement, the Council of Islamic Courts, harbors al-Qaida terrorists, U.S. officials say.

The U.S. ambassador in Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, who also oversees Somalia issues, said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press that the group is a danger not only to Somalia but surrounding countries.

Its military wing, the Shabab, harbors al-Qaida members responsible for terror attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, he said, and Saudi Arabia's government worries Somalia has become an important training ground for Saudis affiliated with al-Qaida, much as Afghanistan once was.

"We regard it as a real danger that the Council of Islamic Courts remnants are clearly making very significant efforts to regroup," he said.

Small Shabab units were sent to the towns of Kismayo, Merka and Jowhar on Saturday, a Shabab member said, asking not to be identified for fear of retribution.

A more senior Shabab member said the group has rebounded since the Western-supported military sweep led by the Ethiopian army.

"We were defeated by the Ethiopians and driven from Mogadishu. We fled to the jungle. And we were bombed there, so now we are back in Mogadishu. We cannot leave Somalia, so we must fight to the death, or defeat the government," he said, insisting his name not be used for fear of being targeted.

He told AP the Shabab now has about 5,000 militiamen and recruits join everyday.

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