Not Just Piracy: Somali Militants Pose Threat To Africa

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June 1, 2012

NAIROBI, Kenya (Dow Jones)-Kenya’s prime minister on Friday appealed for swift international action to head off the risk of Somali militants linking up with their counterparts in other African countries and disrupting life across huge swaths of the continent.

Addressing an international conference on Somalia, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said that despite recent military successes against the militant Islamist group al Shabaab, they remain a threat to East Africa and Somalia itself.

“The recent merger of al Shabaab and al Qaeda, and the possibility of the East African terrorists networking with those in North and West Africa, including Boko Haram, presents a new and more dangerous theater for terrorist activities in Somalia and beyond. It is the more reason we must work overtime to get Somalia up and running again now,” Odinga told delegates from more than 50 countries gathered in Istanbul.

His office in Nairobi issued a statement with his comments.

Boko Horam is the militant Islamist group accused in a series of deadly attacks across northern Nigeria, including the August 2011 bombing of the United Nations office complex in the country’s capital, Abuja.

On Monday, a large explosion in Nairobi’s business district injured at least 33 people in what officials described as a terror attack. The bombing was one of the largest attacks in Kenya since al Qaeda orchestrated simultaneous truck-bomb attacks that destroyed the U.S. Embassy here and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998, killing 224 people. The U.S. government replaced its downtown Nairobi embassy with a sprawling complex on the capital’s outskirts.

At the same conference Friday, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called for international aid for Somalia to prevent warlords exploiting a power vacuum after the scheduled change of power in August.

“I urge donors to contribute to this critical effort. In the face of terrorism, piracy and drought, Somalia needs solidarity,” he said.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre. The Horn of Africa nation has become a haven for terror groups, pirates and weapons dealers.

In October, Kenya sent troops to Somalia to fight al Shabaab militias, accusing them of attacks on its soil, including the kidnapping international aid workers and tourists.

Odinga expressed fears that with other supply lines truncated, al Shabaab might turn to pirates, who have continued to disrupt shipping routes in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.

The Istanbul conference builds on a February gathering in London.

Somalia’s disparate leaders have agreed to roadmap for the formation of a government by August 20 to replace the weak transitional body in Mogadishu.

The prime minister said Kenya is prepared to help train people, including for security and military purposes, to help Somali refugees return home and settle down.

“Having lived with Somali refugees for over two decades now, we in Kenya can testify that the Somali are some of the most enterprising, industrious and innovative people on the continent of Africa; if not on earth. Somalia needs these people back home to restart and rebuild.

“We must help this worthy cause,” Odinga is quoted as saying.

Kenya is home to the world’s largest refugee camp–the Dadaab settlement in the eastern part of the country. It was set up to host tens of thousands of people who fled Somalia following the 1991 collapse of the government. Today the camp is home to hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom were born there.

-By George Mwangi, contributing to Dow Jones Newswires

Copyright © 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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