Members of Washington's Somali population, reacting to news of heavy fighting in their homeland's capital, spent yesterday trying to get details, and about 30 gathered last night to celebrate what they viewed as the imminent downfall of President Mohamed Siad Barre.
"This is the first happy New Year we've had in 22 years," Ali Mohamed Ahmed said as he met with friends at the Adams-Morgan Restaurant. Siad Barre seized power in a bloodless coup in 1969.
If Siad Barre is deposed, Ahmed said, "I will catch the very first flight to Somalia. When I get there, I will kiss the sand."
"It's what we've been waiting for more than 20 years," said Hassan Mohamed.
There are about 3,000 Somali immigrants in the Washington area, and Adams-Morgan is their prime gathering place.
Siad Barre, who has been accused by human rights organizations of numerous abuses such as killing and torturing political opponents, has been a strong ally of the United States for the past decade.
But for the past six years, Siad Barre's regime has been challenged by a number of loosely allied rebel groups organized along ethnic lines rather than ideology.
Until this year, the three main factions -- the Somali National Movement, the Somali Patriotic Movement and the United Somali Congress -- were working separately, but last summer they agreed to work in concert to topple Siad Barre.
Several local Somalis said last night that they support the United Somali Congress, the group currently besieging the capital, whom they referred to not as rebels but "freedom fighters."
Although Somali immigrants here were not able to telephone their homeland, that didn't deter them from gathering news.
All day yesterday, they put into gear a far-reaching and remarkably effective information network that included telephone calls to and from Italy, where there is a sizable Somali population (the Southern part of Somalia was once an Italian colony), facsimile messages from the United Somali Congress, and word-of-mouth among themselves. They also monitored CNN television and British Broadcasting Corp. radio, and obtained a recent wire service report.
If Siad Barre were deposed, several of the Somali immigrants predicted that the country would become a democracy and have free elections.
But even as the Somalis talked excitedly of events in their homeland, several concentrated on the well-being of friends and relatives still in the African country.
Ali Mohamed Gaal said he had learned via the Italian-American network that one of his cousins had been killed.
Mohamed Said said 16 members of his family have been killed by the Siad Barre regime.
"Tonight, I feel like I just came from my mother into the world, like a new kid," Mohamed Said said. "If I were to die after I see Barre is gone, I would feel great."