afrol News, 19 November - Recent titles in the international press include: "Somalia new home for bin Laden?" and "Bin Laden back to Sudan?" In the two African countries, government is working frenetically to avoid becoming the next targets in the US-led war against terrorism.
Somalia and Sudan are among the "failed states" British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described on 22 October - where "warlords, criminals, drugs barons or terrorists ... fill the vacuum" of government. This is where terrorist groups like the Al Qa'ida thrive; according this newly constructed Western doctrine. "Terrorists are strongest where states are weakest," according to Straw.
And this also is the greatest threat defined by the post-11 September Western world. "It used to be possible to ignore distant and misgoverned parts of the world," said Minister Straw. "That is no longer so. In the world without borders, chaos is now our neighbour whether it is in Africa, in Asia or in Afghanistan."
While the British are trying to build a new doctrine to explain the new order, Americans have been more clear in their military statements, confirming again and again the war on terrorism would not stop in Afghanistan, but terrorists would be followed where they are given shelter. After the US' long-time enemy number one - Saddam Hussein's Iraq - more and more fingers point towards Somalia and Sudan for possible terrorist hideouts.
Possible candidates for US military operations have been quick to respond. Libya, sponsoring terrorism until the mid-90s, has never been more in support of the US. Sierra Leonean terrorists/rebels RUF, responsible for one of the most terrible "failed states" in the 1990s, categorically have denied all contacts with Al Qa'ida after reports of RUF diamond sales to the organisation.
Sudan still is a clear candidate, although diplomatic contacts between Washington and Khartoum have never been intense since the Muslim fundamentalist party NIF (National Islamic Front) came to power in a military coup in 1989. The US bombed what it believed to be chemical weapons factory in Sudan in 1998 and it still unilaterally enforces an embargo against Sudan, abolished by the UN 28 September.
Osama bin Laden lived for five years in Sudan, until the Taliban gained power in Afghanistan in 1996. Bin Laden and Al Qa'ida have large investments and businesses run in Sudan, such as banking, trade and constructing. So-called "Arab Afghans", war veterans that came to Sudan at the same time as bin Laden, still are visible and active in Khartoum, especially with business.
US pressure on Sudan to cooperate in the alliance against terrorism has been paralleled with diplomatic measures. Khartoum has realised the real threat of the US actively supporting the southern Sudanese guerrilla SPLA in the same way it military supports the Afghan Northern Alliance.
In September, former US senator John C. Danforth was appointed President Bush's special envoy to Sudan amid growing US public interest in the Sudanese war. Danforth made his first visit to Sudan last week on a mission "to find out if the United States can do anything useful" to settle the Sudanese war. Danforth however also met with Khartoum officials, discussing the growing intelligence cooperation between the two countries.
Sudanese President Omer Hassan Ahmed el-Beshir is not seen as the most fundamentalist of the Khartoum power elite, a fact underlined when he ousted the former spiritual leader of the NIF, Hassan Abdullah el Turabi, earlier this year. El-Beshir's dictatorship has since become softer on religious issues and has distanced itself from international terrorism.
According to the New York Times, US intelligence officers have obtained information from their Sudanese colleagues about known terrorist residents or ex-residents of Sudan. The Washington Post even reports that Khartoum was willing to "arrest Osama bin Laden and place him in Saudi custody" in 1996, but the offer stranded on Saudi protests.
President el-Beshir is however struggling to keep his balance between strong fundamentalist forces in Sudan and his government's wish to join the anti-terrorist league. Turabi, now a Sudanese opposition leader, reportedly is "using the crisis to weaken [el-Beshir's] group," according to Africa Confidential, claiming he is betraying the cause of Islam. To counter the domestic critics, state-owned Sudanese media deny any cooperation between Khartoum and Washington whatsoever.
While Khartoum is in control of over half of its territory, the rest being controlled by the non-Muslim SPLA, the situation in Somalia is quite different. The so-called Transitional National Government in Mogadishu does not even control the entire capital. Two self-proclaimed states (Somaliland and Puntland) control the north, while clans and warlords control Somalia proper.
Again according to Africa Confidential, known for good access to intelligence sources, there is already "talk of US military action or US support for Ethiopian operations against Al Itahaad bases inside Somalia." The Al Qa'ida supposedly has used Al Itahaad's bases as operational staging posts, and the organisation played a role in the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
More terrorism trails lead to Somalia. Recently, several Somali private financial networks were shut down by the Bush administration for allegedly funnelling cash to the Al Qa'ida. "Somalia is viewed, along with Yemen, as the most likely destination for bin Laden should he escape Afghanistan," says Jonathan Stevenson, an analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies told AP.
The Mogadishu government, facing increased accusations of not being able to control terrorism hosted on its territory, has a hard time denying international press reports.
Interviewed by the German journal 'Spiegel', Somali 'Minister of Foreign Affairs', Mohamed Alim, assured that Somalia never would receive Osama bin Laden. "No Somali loving his country would welcome bin Laden," Alim commented the improbable speculations bin Laden might seek refuge in Somalia as Taliban control over Afghanistan is crumbling.
Commenting the CIA claims, Al Qa'ida members already are being smuggled into Somalia from Kenya, Alim forgets diplomacy and states, "It would not be the first time the CIA would be mistaken. The alleged factory of toxic gases in Sudan, bombed by the Clinton government in 1998, also only produced medicines."
Alim denied all possibilities of Al Qa'ida establishing itself in Somalia, even though his transitional government was not in control. "Nothing stays secret in Somalia," he tried to reassure the astonished German journalist.
However, even Kenya is loosing faith in the abilities of its northern neighbour to control any such terrorist group. Ethiopia, tired of constant chaos at its eastern border, reportedly has offered the US help in possible actions against Somalia.
Rumours of US-Ethiopian preparations of strikes inside Somalia are growing. Ethiopian police closed down all Addis Ababa-based branches of Somali remittance banks last week. This was followed by a call by the Ethiopian government on Somalis living in the country to apply for new identity cards - allegedly to enable them to have access to legal banking services. Somalis however fear heavier surveillance and purges against them.
Meanwhile, the political chaos in Mogadishu is growing, as to underline that the transitional government is not able to represent the Somali people. After a vote of no confidence three weeks ago, Hassan Abshir Farah was as appointed new Prime Minister. Farah, serving as the mayor of Mogadishu under the former dictator, Siyad Barre, is seen to have little support outside the capital.
In New York last week, Somalia's UN ambassador, Ahmed Abdi Hashi, proposed "an international committee of inquiry under the auspices of the UN Security Council to investigate" the allegations Somalia was hosting terrorists. There are however widespread fears this proposition came too late.
- We had all kinds of terrorism by warlords and ... some very small groups of religious fanatics ... because of the absence of law in the country, Somali President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "But that was history ... right now I don't think there are local or international terrorists in Somalia."
He however admitted his government had little control beyond the limits of Mogadishu - or what Jack Straw would call a "failed state".