- Somalia's Islamist movement, which controls most of the country, is becoming increasingly present on foreign websites propagating jihad against the non-believers and presenting the war in Somalia as part of a global confrontation. In unofficial videos from the Islamists secret training camps, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is praised.
The Mogadishu-based Islamic Court Union and its Islamist militias are getting stronger present in the Internet, using a two-faced strategy. Official statements from court leaders, also available from the Union's website, demonstrate moderate viewpoints. The "unofficial" web campaign, however, is much wider and links the Islamists closely to the world's most radical jihadist groups.
A new Somali jihadist video is doing the rounds in Mogadishu and on radical websites used to propagate the messages of al Qaeda. It shows Islamist fighters training for war at a secret camp and specifically glorifies Osama bin Laden. Although not officially endorsed by the Islamic Courts, the militia's video features some of their key figures, such as Mogadishu security chief Abdullahi Maalim Ali - also know as Abu Utayba.
"We are the new Afghanistan," it is stated on the propaganda video, directed at jihadists all over the world. The propaganda piece invites potential martyrs from any place to come to Somalia and join the fight against non-believers.
This is not the first recruitment campaign among foreign jihadists made by the new rulers of Mogadishu. For years, the Somali Islamist movement has made sure to feature regularly on the most radical Islamist websites, next to messages from Mr bin Laden.
Even al Qaeda has made sure to demonstrate its utmost sympathy and on several occasions has mentioned Somalia as one of its war-scenes. Latest in January this year, Mr bin Laden in a video appeal directed himself "to Somali in particular" and on 11 September this year, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri urged all Muslims to "fight US allies in Somalia."
This constant recruitment for the Somali Islamists - first for the defeated al Qaeda allied al-Itihaad al-Islaami, later for its heirs in the Islamic Court Union - has led to results. Already in the earliest phase of the Islamist militia's armed advance, foreign jihadists were among the frontline fighters. From each new battle, there is documentation of their growing numbers.
According to consultant Matt Bryden of the think-tank International Crisis Group (ICG), it is a conscious policy of the Mogadishu Islamists to try to associate themselves with global jihadists, creating an image of their struggle as being "part of a global confrontation between Islam and non-believers. Their propaganda emulates that of al Qaeda and other jihadist groups around the world," Mr Bryden told afrol News in a recent interview.
The political analyst however warns against believing in the image the warring Somali parties like to propagate. "I think it is important not to succumb to this kind of logic. The Courts are just one of several groups waging a struggle for political control of Somalia, all of whom have at times turned to foreign powers for support," said Mr Bryden.
The Islamic Courts were attempting "to portray this as a jihad is an attempt to legitimise their struggle in global terms," just as the Baidoa-based transitional government was seeking to "portray itself as a partner in the American-led 'Global War on Terror'," he explained.
Mr Bryden however holds there are far more realistic ways to distinguish the two parties. "In reality, many Somalis perceive the Courts as a Hawiye clan movement and the transitional government as a Darod-led faction. Neither of these characterisations is entirely accurate, but they are certainly closer to the truth than the portrayal of the conflict as a clash between Muslims and infidels," he emphasises.
But in addition to this sought association to the "global war against the infidels", there is growing evidence that the Islamist militias waving the Somali war for the Islamic courts are indeed getting - or staying - involved in global terror networks. Only last week, Yemeni authorities detained seven al Qaeda suspects involved in arms smuggling to Somalia.
Many Court leaders also were part of al-Itihaad, which now figures on a UN list of terrorist organisations put in contact with al Qaeda. There is much evidence indicating it was al-Itihaad that stood behind the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi that killed more than 200 persons in August 1998. Islamic Court chairman Hassan Dahir Aweys is associated to this group and figures on a US list of wanted terrorists.
A controversial UN report from last week did not ease scepticism about the Islamists' foreign ties. The reports claims to document that Syria, Iran, Eritrea, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia have all sent military personnel, weapons or military supplies to the Mogadishu Islamists. In addition, the UN claims to have proof that the Somalis had sent hundreds of fighters to support Lebanon's Hezbollah in its recent war against Israel.
While all this is denied when speaking to the Western press or when reacting to UN reports, the Somali Islamist movement's Internet presence however proves that it plays closely along al Qaeda lines. Or at least, it wants to give this impression to potential martyrs outside the country.
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