ANALYSIS-Terror war ranks low on new Somalia's To Do list

By William Maclean

NAIROBI, October(Reuters) - Gunmen looking for al Qaeda suspects storm a
house in Mogadishu and kidnap two Somalis. Shots are fired, and two people
including a security guard fall dead.

The news outrages Muslim clerics who tell congregations that foiling such
abductions is an Islamic duty: One group demands death for Somalis who
help "Christians" kidnap Muslims.

The June 30 incident illustrates one of the most delicate security
challenges facing a new government taking shape at peace talks aimed at
ending anarchy in the Horn of Africa state.

There have been about 15 such raids in Somalia in the past 18 months
believed to have been by foreign powers using Somali proxies to hunt al
Qaeda suspects, the majority of them "misses", according to analysts who
track the anti-terror war.

As long as Somalia lacked a government, spy agencies looking for al Qaeda
cells in east Africa saw no need to wrestle with awkward questions of Somali
sovereignty, and were free to hire local "muscle" from friendly warlords to
perform the snatches.

FATAL BLOW

But with a government emerging at a gathering of elders and warlords held in
nearby Kenya, diplomats are pointing out that more such raids are sure to
embarrass a fledgling administration and possibly deal a fatal blow to its
fragile hopes of survival.
"It (more raids) could become a destabilising factor. The U.S.
government will have to cooperate with the new government on security
issues," said Somali analyst Abdi Ismail Samatar.

A new president is to be elected by members of an interim parliament meeting
in Kenya in Oct. 10 polls. He will appoint a prime minister and government
to shepherd the country to polls after five years and oversee the writing of
a new constitution.

In a failed state long carved into militia fiefdoms, the president's
priority will be sheer survival -- a tricky task that will involve nursing
the sensitivities of those well-armed warlords who will have lost out in the
race for top jobs.

Even assuming that that immense challenge is met, political realities will
dictate that the war on terror remains low on the new president's To Do
list: for Washington's campaign has brought nothing but misery to date for
Somalis already beset by years of drought, food shortages, displacement and
violence.

In late 2001 the United States froze the assets of key remittance firm al-
Barakat amid U.S. suspicions -- as yet unsubstantiated -- that it helped
move cash for militants.

The company collapsed, leaving hundreds of thousands with no way of
receiving vital remittances from relatives working abroad. The company also
took deposits, and many traders who kept their money with al-Barakat were
left destitute.
"Whatever new government comes in will be unpopular, particularly among
the religious groups, if it comes to be seen as a puppet of the USA,
actively helping to prosecute the war on terror," said analyst Jabril
Ibrahim Abdulle.
"The new government will need to balance the need to show cooperation
in the war on terror with the need to protect Somalis from the consequences
of the war on terror."

EMBASSY BOMBINGS

U.S. investigators suspect Somalia served as a base for al Qaeda bombers who
struck at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and an Israeli-owned
hotel in Kenya in 2002.

While the perpetrators of those attacks were not Somalis, a number of
subsequent killings of foreign aid workers around Somali are believed to be
the work of Somali Islamists.

A small group of Mogadishu militants is monitored by Western powers as well
as by neighbour Ethiopia, which sees them as an unacceptable beachhead of
radical Islam in its backyard. The radicals hold sway over an administrative
umbrella group supervising sharia courts, institutions the new government
will have to work with, at least initially, as they are the only form of
organised justice in Mogadishu apart from customary clan law.

One of the courts' leaders is Hassan Dahir Aweis, a militant who recently
resurfaced after vanishing amid heightened U.S. scrutiny of Somalia after
the Sept. 11 attacks..He has stridently criticised as insufficiently Muslim
an interim constitution under which the new government will rule. But the
consensus among experts on Somalia is that such hardliners, while clearly
reorganising, are not a military force and their social influence is small
beside larger, more moderate Islamist groups active in medicine, education
and commerce.

While a new government must not antagonise the courts, or wider Somali
society, by permitting foreign raids on suspects, the radicals themselves
pose little threat, analysts say.
"I don't expect the militants to be a hindrance. Even though they sound
potent, on the ground they are not. They have never been a successful
military force," said analyst Ahmed Isse Awad. {C}ENDS

Reuters