By Associated Press
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 17 (AP) — A secular alliance of warlords battling fundamentalist Islamic militias in Somalia said Wednesday that the militias were being strengthened by fighters from the Middle East, Pakistan and elsewhere, and said it had the bodies to prove it.
"Foreigners were fighting alongside the local terrorists and were killed," said Hussein Gutale Ragheh, a spokesman for the alliance. No one was caught alive, he said, but among the dead were Arabs and others who looked like Pakistanis, Sudanese and Oromo fighters from neighboring Ethiopia.
The report could not be verified.
The possible presence of foreign Islamists has heightened fears that Al Qaeda is trying to make Somalia a staging ground, a State Department spokesman said Wednesday. The United States is widely believed to be supporting the secular alliance, but officials refused Wednesday to confirm or deny that.
"Our concerns with regard to Somalia and terrorism lie primarily in the potential presence of foreign fighters in Somalia," said Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman. The United States is working with a wide spectrum of leaders, and he said he did not know whether that included the warlords.
Somalia, which has had no effective central government in 15 years, has been roiled by a surge in violence that has killed more than 140 people this month in and around Mogadishu, the capital. Most victims have been civilians caught in cross-fire or hit by shells.
The Islamic fundamentalists portray themselves as capable of bringing order to the country. Their growth in popularity and strength, and the possibility that they have outside support, is reminiscent of the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the late 1990's.
Somalia's descent into chaos began in 1991 with the overthrow of the longtime dictator, Mohammed Siad Barre. Since then, warlords who divided the country into clan-based fiefs have fought one another, though some recently joined a United Nations-backed interim government.
On Wednesday, hundreds of Somalis marched through Mogadishu chanting, "Down with the warmongers and down with their supporters!" and carrying signs saying, "War is not a solution." But some groups that had helped plan the rally boycotted it after militia members showed up.
A cease-fire was signed over the weekend, but its effect was limited.
Source: AP, May 17, 2006