MOGADISHU (AFP) - Somalia teetered on the brink of war after a suicide attack on the seat of the weak Islamist-threatened government, and ally Ethiopia's authorization of action against the Islamists.
Somali police and witnesses said at least eight people were killed and four wounded when an explosives-laden vehicle detonated at a checkpoint in eastern Baidoa and that one of two dead in the car was a woman.
The others included five civilian occupants of two nearby vehicles and a police officer, according Bashir Ali, a senior police official at the scene.
"Eight people have been killed, including a police officer, and four others were wounded, including a police officer," he told AFP.
"Two of the dead were in the car that exploded, five were civilians in vehicles waiting to be checked and the last was a police officer," Ali said.
Earlier, Somali police commander General Ali Hussein put the death toll at at least 12.
Islamist commanders in Mogadishu and the Bay region where Baidoa is located said the attack was aimed at an Ethiopian military position and that between 24 and 40 Ethiopian soldiers had been killed.
Ali and Hussein denied any Ethiopian troops were involved, saying that aside from the police officer and the bombers, the other casualties were all Somali civilians.
Witnesses said they believed the death toll was higher but stressed that confusion around the scene made it difficult to establish accurate figures.
"I was near the checkpoint and before we knew what was going there was some kind of fire and then a huge blast from a Toyota Mark II," said Baidoa resident Mukhtar Hassan, who lives near the Boynunay checkpoint.
Abdi Mursal, a retired police officer who went to the scene to help investigate, said one of those in the detonated car was female but stressed it was not clear if she had been involved in the attack.
"There was a woman in there, but we don't know if she knew about the bomb or if she may have been an innocent passenger," he told AFP.
The checkpoint is closely guarded by Somali authorities who keep close watch on those entering and leaving Baidoa, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northwest of Mogadishu and the only town held by the weak national government.
Security has been tight there since a failed mid-September attempt to assassinate Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.
The government has blamed the September 18 incident on the Islamists, who denied responsibility but have since declared holy war on Ethiopian troops protecting the government.
General Hussein said the car had been driven to Baidoa from Mogadishu but made no further comment about who might have been behind the attack.
The Islamist commander in Bay region, Mohamed Ibrahim Said Bilal, told AFP the attack was the work of "Islamic suicide bombers" and claimed that some 40 people had been killed.
The attack came hours after Ethiopia's parliament adopted a resolution that called the Islamists a "clear and present danger" and authorised the government to take "any legal action against any invasion coming to our country."
The vote followed an earlier Islamist-claimed attack on an Ethiopian military convoy outside Baidoa and a day after the Islamists accused Ethiopia of shelling a town they hold near the border.
Worried diplomats at the United Nations have called on all nations to respect an 1992 arms embargo on Somalia amid reports of massive military build-ups by the rival parties with embargo violations by 10 nations.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi rejected opposition concerns the resolution was a declaration of war, saying it gave the government leeway to deal with the Islamists, who he accuses of colluding with arch-foe Eritrea to destabilize Ethiopia.
Meles denies deploying thousands of troops to Somalia but acknowledges sending military advisers and trainers to assist the internationally-backed but largely powerless Somali government.
Mainly Christian Ethiopia has watched with growing concern the rise on its southeastern border of the Islamists, who seized Mogadishu in June and now control most of southern and central Somalia.
Sudan beat Somalia 3-0 in Group C of the Cecafa on Thursday to enhance their chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals.
Somalia put up an inspiring show early in the game with Yusuf Ali missing the target narrowly in the 8th minute.
But the Sudanese rallied and got the opener seven minutes later through Natali Gemi.
Somalia were depleted in the 34th minute after midfielder Mohammed Noor was red-carded by Tanzania referee Victor Mwandike for serious foul play, though his dismissal encouraged them to raise their tempo.
But the Sudanese took advantage of the numerical superiority in the second half with goals from Zakariah Zuhar 68th minute and another striker from Gemi ten minutes later.
Sudan could have pulled off a much wider scoreline but Somalia goalkeeper Olad Abdilwali made three fantastic saves in the last quarter hour.
Meanwhile, in the other game of the group, Uganda beat Rwanda 1-0 to qualify for the quarter-finals.
The Cranes won the game thanks to a strike by Geoffrey Sserunkuma.
Al-Qaida said to be operating in Somalia
WASHINGTON - Al-Qaida militants are operating with "great comfort" in Somalia, providing training and assistance to a radical military element loyal to the Islamic group that controls most of southern Somalia, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.
Jendayi Frazer, who heads the department's Africa bureau, said a priority U.S. goal is the capture of three militants wanted for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and a hotel in Kenya in 2002. The three are from Sudan, Kenya and the Comoros Islands, located off Africa's east coast.
"We're continuing to work with all sides in Somalia to try get those terrorists turned over and to prevent Somalia from becoming a safe haven," Frazer told a small group of reporters.
She emphasized that the al-Qaida presence goes well beyond the three suspects.
The administration has looked on with anxiety as Islamic militants, operating under the umbrella of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), have expanded their zone of influence in the country while marginalizing a secular government that lacks authority despite the backing of the United Nations and the United States.
The secular authority, known as the transitional federal government, is based in the western Somali town of Baidoa, unable to expand its reach further.
The administration supports the creation of an African force, totaling a battalion or two, to train and protect the transition government. The goal is to establish a balance in Somalia that would convince the Islamists that a military victory is impossible, thus creating conditions for a negotiated settlement between the two.
The African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a seven-nation East African group, originally proposed deployment of an African force in Somalia.
The Islamists said in June they had no interest in forming a government but their actions since then suggest otherwise, the administration believes. The rise of the UIC over the past six months has alarmed non-Muslim countries throughout East Africa and generated fears of armed conflict throughout the region.
From the outset, the United States has supported a dialogue between the Islamists and the transition government.
In a statement Tuesday night, the State Department said the "continued military expansion by the UIC has prevented this dialogue from moving forward and has created the need for deployment of a regional force.
"The force will deter further aggression against the transition government, create the required space for dialogue and stabilize the situation."
The only country that has volunteered troops for the African force thus far is Uganda.
Somalia: Islamists And IGAD to Convene in Djibouti
An Islamist delegation of seven individuals led by senior Islamic Courts leader Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed has flown to neighboring Djibouti where meeting orchestrated by Djibouti government between Somalia's Islamists and member states of Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD, is expected to take place.
Aid agency reports about flood relief
Speaking to reporters at Mogadishu airport, Sheik Sharif said their trip was to hasten diplomatic dialog with IGAD over the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops inside Somalia.
Ethiopia is a member state of IAGD.
"If IGAD needs to be neutral in Somalia's internal conflict, it should force Ethiopia to pull its military forces out of Somalia", Sheik Sharif said, thanking Djibouti and Qatar for their of supporting the tightening of the arms embargo on Somalia after UN Security Council unanimously approved the resolution of keeping arms embargo on Somalia in place.
He denied that several countries supplied Islamic Courts with weapons and money. He pointed the UN report recently posted on the internet fake and baseless. UN report revealed ten countries involved in arming Somalia's challenging groups.
He also denied that foreign fighters do fight alongside Somalia's Islamic Courts. "American accusations on us that we harbor foreign Islamists are absolutely wrong". He said, welcoming the resolutions of the UN Security Council on stiffening the arms embargo on Somalia.
Somalia's parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden has landed at Mogadishu airport, returning from Djibouti as Aden said he went to Djibouti to work with Djibouti government over reconciling the Somali government and the Union of Islamic Courts.
Somalia Union of Islamic Courts executive council leader Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed along with Islamist entourages gets on board a plane at Mogadishu airport Thursday. Sharif headed for neighboring Djibouti to attend a meeting orchestrated by Djibouti between IGAD and Union of Islamic Courts. Thursday, Mogadishu 30 November 2006.
Sheik Aweys receives Somalia's parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Aden who returned from Djibouti and landed at Mogadishu airport. The parliament speaker's return coincided with UN Security Council's tightening of the arms embargo on Somalia.
The chairman of the Somali Development Council spoke to the press about the damages caused by severe flooding in parts of southern Somalia. The Shabelle River that transverses through central and southern regions has flooded in recent weeks, causing death and destruction to family homes, farms and other property.
Sheikh Ahmed Suleiman said that his organization delivered assistance to some 1030 families in flood-hit towns and villlages in Middle Shabelle regions. Materials delivered included food, water, bags and other necessities.
Likewise in neighboring Lower Shabelle region, Mr. Suleiman said that the SDC cooperated with an Islamic Courts-appointed flood relief committee in delivering aid to 800 families in remote areas hit by the Shabelle floods.
The aid, which was distributed by SDC, was originally donated by the Red Cross-UAE office and Mr. Suleiman expressed his appreciation to that office.
If you would like to help, please send your flood relief donations to:
Qaran Express Acct# 117
Dahabshiil Bank Acct# 2283
Amal Bank Acct# 11073
Global Money Transfer Acct# 21042
Mustaqbal Bank Acct# 22315
Tawakal Bank Acct# 309