Somali Islamist leader hits out at US terror claims

Somali Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys dismissed United States terrorism allegations against him and instead blamed Washington for instability in the Horn of Africa, in an interview published on Wednesday.

“The US cannot present any concrete evidence for its unfounded accusations,” Aweys, a top leader of the Islamic Courts Union wanted by Washington over suspected links to al-Qaeda, was quoted as saying by the Eritrea Profile paper.

The Islamist militia briefly controlled large swathes of Somalia before being ousted earlier this year by Ethiopian-backed transitional government forces, forcing Aweys into hiding for several months.

Since being defeated by Ethiopia’s vastly superior military machine, the insurgents have reverted to guerrilla tactics, launching daily hit-and-run attacks on government targets in Mogadishu.

But Aweys, who is taking part in an opposition conference in the Eritrean capital aimed at unifying forces to drive Ethiopian troops out of Somalia, argued he was simply fighting for his country.

“I am a Somali nationalist fighting for a free and united Somalia and this is considered by the US administration to be terrorism,” he said.

He blamed Washington and its Ethiopian allies for fuelling conflict in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation. “The only problem is the interference of the United States and its servants, namely the Ethiopian leaders,” he added.

Somali opposition leaders meeting in Asmara—including senior Islamist leaders, exiled lawmakers and diaspora representatives—also rejected US accusations that Eritrea was backing terrorism in the region.

“The brotherly government of Eritrea has kindly offered a refuge to the Somali nationalist leaders who had opposed the unlawful invasion of the murderous, oppressive regime in Addis Ababa,” they said in a statement.

Since the ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has had no central authority and defied several initiatives aimed at ending bloody tribal feuds and restoring stability.—Sapa-AFP

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