Somalis fear becoming next U.S. target
MOGADISHU, Somalia (CNN) -- The success of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan has led some people here to wonder whether their country might be the next target of the war on terrorism.
U.S. officials have expressed concerned that the war-torn African nation could offer a potential hideout for members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.
"We've always made clear that we felt that Somalia and the situation that existed there made it a potential haven for terrorists," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said last week.
Somalia is home to the group Al-Itihaad Al-Islamiya, or "Islamic Unity," which the United States believes has links to bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Al-Itihaad Al-Islamiya, whose goal is to create an Islamic state in Somalia, is on the U.S. list of terrorist groups, but some former members told CNN that while the group was active a decade ago, its members are now scattered. They said they did not think the group had a militia or any offices in Somalia.
U.S. sources said, however, they believe there may still be a few senior members of Al-Itihaad Al-Islamiya who might help al Qaeda.
Somalia's Interim President Abiqassim Hassan said he does not believe there are any terrorist bases in his country. If there are, he said, he would work with the United States to destroy them.
"We are saying to the Americans, welcome. Let us see if there are any such camps, we will meet you there and we will fight," he said.
U.S. Navy patrol aircraft are flying reconnaissance and surveillance missions off the coast of Somalia and nearby Yemen to look for activity that could indicate al Qaeda leaders might be trying to make their way to Somalia, Pentagon officials said last week.
Boucher said the United States has made contact with Somali officials to discuss its concerns, "but that's a long distance from saying it's on a target list."
That does not reassure Abdullahi Hussein Kahie, the communications manager of Al-Barakkaat, Somalia's largest company.
"It's not only me ... who's worrying about that. All Somalis, all Somali people [are] worrying that to come [is] American invasion here," he said.
The Bush administration has frozen Al-Barakkaat's assets and blacklisted four of its managers, including Kahie, claiming the company helped finance al Qaeda.
The company denied the charge but said it has been told the U.S. decision is irreversible.
-- CNN Nairobi Bureau Chief Catherine Bond contributed to this report.
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