By KHALED KAZZIHA
The Associated Press
Friday, June 15, 2007; 6:57 PM
NAIROBI, Kenya -- A video circulating in Somalia's capital shows a masked man firing a surface-to-air missile _ a graphic but unsubstantiated claim that Islamic insurgents in the country are capable of shooting down planes.
The video, available on the streets of Mogadishu and obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, is one of several released recently by the insurgents, echoing the propaganda tactics of radical groups in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. They may serve less to communicate with the world than to rally supporters at a time when the movement has been driven underground by Somalia's government and its Ethiopian military backers.
Somalia's Islamic militants have claimed in the past to have surface-to-air missiles, but never before shown them in a video.
A U.N. panel monitoring Somalia's arms embargo said in a November report that besides the small arms routinely used in Somalia, the Islamic militants have obtained surface-to-air missiles. The report did not specify the type or number the militants were believed to have.
"One should not be surprised that that equipment (surface-to-air missiles) is available" in Somalia, said Bethuel Kiplagat, a Kenyan diplomat who mediated Somalia's peace process between 2003 and 2004.
Al-Qaida leaders have named the Horn of Africa nation as one of the battlefronts for Islamic militants, and Kiplagat said the group "has the capacity and capability of getting such arms."
In 2002, al-Qaida took responsibility for firing two SA-7 missiles that narrowly missed an Israeli passenger in Somalia's neighbor, Kenya.
The AP got the video showing the shoulder-fired missile from a person associated with the Shabab, the militant wing of an Islamic group that ruled much of southern Somalia for six months last year. The group was driven from its strongholds in December but has vowed to launch an Iraq-style insurgency until Somalia is ruled by an Islamic theocracy.
The short video shows a man wearing a woolen mask, light blue shirt and trousers, pointing a missile launcher at the sky and then firing, but it does not show the missile hitting any target.
The video begins with Arabic text saying Islamic fighters were responsible for the March 23 downing of a cargo plane and that they attacked another plane March 9.
On March 23, a Russian built Ilyushin-76 crashed shortly after delivering equipment for Ugandan peacekeepers in Mogadishu, killing all 11 people aboard. Witnesses and airport staff reported the plane was brought down by a missile, but government officials said at the time that the pilot had called the control tower to say the plane had engine problems.
On March 9, a plane carrying peacekeepers caught fire as it landed in Mogadishu but nobody was injured. At the time, a group calling itself the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations claimed it fired missiles at the plane.
Friday's video mentioned another group. The fighters are believed to operate in groups under the Shabab umbrella, which may explain competing claims of responsibility.
Somali security officials declined to comment on the video or on investigations into what happened to either plane.
Associated Press writers Tom Maliti in Nairobi and Salad Duhul in Mogadishu, Somalia, contributed to this report.