September 18, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, warns that the growing conflict in Somalia, fomented in large part by Eritrea, risks giving another chance to al-Qaeda to establish itself in the critical Horn of Africa region.

While, according to Dr. Pham, conflict in Somalia is rooted in the unrepresentative nature of the country’s ineffective, Ethiopian-backed “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG), Eritrea has facilitated the creation of a new umbrella group calling itself the “Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia” (ALS) includes clan opponents of the TFG and moderate Islamists as well as extremist elements from the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), including a number of al-Qaeda terrorists:

The real problem is that the conflict the ALS will foment creates an ideal operating space in for Islamist terrorists like [Adan Hashi] ‘Ayro and Fazul Abdullah Muhammad as well as Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki, a veteran of the ICU’s pan-Somali precursor group, al-Itihaad al-Islamiya as well as the ICU council who has been sanctioned under both Executive Order 13224 and UN Security Council Resolution 1267 for his links to al-Qaeda, whose East Africa cell he is reputed to currently lead; Muhktar Robow, a.k.a., Abu Mansur, the former deputy defense minister of the ICU who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan; Issa Osman Issa, another al-Qaeda member wanted for his role in the East Africa embassy bombings; Ahmad Abdi Godane, an al-Shabaab leader trained by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan wanted for his role in the murders of Western aid workers in the Republic of Somaliland; and Ibrahim Haji Jama, a.k.a. “al-Afghani,” another al-Shabaab leader who trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and is a veteran of terrorist campaigns there as well as in Kashmir and in Somaliland.

The Eritrean regime’s actions are, in large part, motivated by a desire to weaken its Ethiopian foe as tensions heighten over the two country’s disputed border—international arbitrators are expected to deliver a ruling in November—as well as its frustrations over its diplomatic isolation, as witnessed by its increasingly personal polemic against U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazier. Thus the article concludes:

Meanwhile, the onset of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when many adherents of the faith believe their actions have even greater merit than during the rest of the year, will likely mean that attacks by the Islamist-led insurgents in Somalia will increase. Between these currents, sacred and profane, the Horn of Africa is quickly becoming a maelstrom—the question for U.S. policymakers is the extent to which America’s real interests in the region will be caught in the whirl.

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “Somalia Still Sinking as Eritrea Entertains Enemies,” click here.