Features

A new jihad

"A new jihad" Continued...

Issue: "Double trouble," Oct. 21, 2006

U.S. counterterrorism experts have said that Somalia bears watching more as a terrorist haven and transit route than a breeding ground to export international jihadism. That may be changing with the further erosion of the interim government-Somalia's 14th attempt at central government since 1991-and the triumph of the new radical religious movement known as Islamic Courts Union (ICU) over not only government forces but also entrenched warlords. If the Somali Islamists also are spreading holy war to Ethiopia, however, the United States has more reason to take seriously the rise of Islamic radicalism in the Horn of Africa.

At parade grounds outside Mogadishu the ICU is training holdovers from the city's infamous warlord militias into an army of Allah, according to a recent report in London's Sunday Telegraph. They chant "Allah akhbar!" or "God is great!" as they drill, spend hours studying the Quran, and draw frequent comparisons to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Like the Taliban a decade ago, the militants' dramatic ascendancy is winning initial popular support for bringing a semblance of order and decency to one of the world's most dangerous cities. But already order comes at the price of freedom: The courts have tried to shut down cafés showing Bollywood films and to limit soccer matches; they have urged radio stations to stop playing love songs; and they have pressured women to wear veils. Amputation has become the sentence of choice for many crimes.

Given the comparisons, many suspect that ICU is a front for establishing a Horn of Africa al-Qaeda. But the ICU remains a far from unified entity politically or religiously: Its core members range in Islamic belief from moderate Sufism to rigid and legalistic Wahhabism.

Nevertheless, the comparisons put neighbors like Ethiopia and Kenya on the alert. With the ever-present challenges of endemic poverty, famine, and a harsh environment, one more destabilized government in their backyard can be too many. This month's attacks in Ethiopia are a reminder that Somalia is just such a neighbor-with factions ready to inflict not only devastation but also fear.

As the wave of violence eases, villagers say they are hesitant to return to their land for fear of revenge attacks. "Even if these people go back to their village, they have lost everything. And it's very difficult to go back unless someone is helping them," said the EKHC church official. "They have to restart life again from zero. It's so disappointing."

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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