UN Arms Embargo Blamed for Somali Gov't's Inability to Fight Terrorists

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:17pm EDT

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - The unsuccessful assassination attempt on Somalia's interim president is being viewed here as a clear signal by Islamists that they intend to use proven terror tactics to attain their goals, at a time the government's hands are tied by a U.N. arms embargo.

U.S. experts will reportedly help transitional government officials investigate Monday's deadly bombings, at least one of which is believed to have been caused by a suicide bomber.

Although such terror tactics have become commonplace in the Middle East hotspots and in al-Qaeda attacks against Western targets, this would be the first case of its kind in Somalia's troubled history.

President Abdullahi Yusuf's vehicle was completely destroyed in the two car bombings targeting his cavalcade. His brother and seven other people were killed and a further 50 were injured.

Hussein Abdi Mohammed, a Somalia analyst based in Kenya said the failed attempt has confirmed suspicions that the presence of radical Islamists in Somalia is greater than previously thought.

"It's a statement that regional countries need to take seriously. For those countries involved in one way or the other in trying to bring peace in Somalia against the radicals' wishes, such attacks can easily happen against them from Somalia," he said.

Yusuf is the head of the transitional government formed through a regional peace initiative that was supported by Western countries.

The government is based in Baidoa - the location of the attack - because security in the capital, Mogadishu, remains poor.

Its already weak state was made worse by the emergence of the Union of Islamic Courts, a grouping of armed radical Muslims with al-Qaeda links, which controls Mogadishu and other areas.

Analysts say a U.N. arms embargo against Somalia means the government cannot build a strong army of its own - while the Islamists are able to obtain illicit arms through neighboring countries like Eritrea.

The Union recently threatened to attack the seat of the transitional government in Baidoa, which lies about 230 kilometers from the capital. Its recent attempts to move against the government failed when Ethiopian forces intervened.

The Union says its want to rule Somalia through Islamic law and has rejected the introduction of peacekeeping forces, as proposed by the African Union.

A key leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, also heads an al-Qaeda-linked Somali group known as al-Itihaad al-Islamiah, which the U.S. added to its foreign terrorist organization list shortly after 9/11.

The transitional government says it wants international peacekeepers to prevent the anarchy that has reined in Somalia for more than 14 years from worsening.

Somali foreign affairs minister, Ismael Mohamoud Hurreh, told reporters in Nairobi that only a small segment of the Somali people were opposed to the deployment of peacekeepers.

"It is also important that a peacekeeping force is deployed in the country to ensure a peaceful environment," he said. "[Regional] countries have a responsibility to ensure the security situation does not deteriorate."

Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti have pledged to contribute peacekeepers to a force, but nothing has yet been settled.

"We need to do a needs assessment in Somalia before regional peacekeeping troops can be committed there," said Kenya's deputy foreign affairs minister, Moses Wetang'ula.

Somali media reports that U.S. agents are in Somalia to probe the blast, along with military experts from the U.S.-led Horn of Africa Anti-Terrorism Task Force, based in Djibouti.

Omar Jamal, the executive director of the Minnesota-based Somali Justice Advocacy Center said U.N. Security Council inaction was worsening the situation.

The council's refusal to grant the transitional government an exemption from the arms embargo meant it was unable to protect Somalia citizens from terrorist organizations.

"I am apprehensive that such criminal terrorist act similar to the suicide bombing in Somalia will continue if not addressed properly and with urgency," Jamal said.

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