A day after Islamic militias took control of Mogadishu from warlords, the U.S. State Department expressed concerns that Somalia could become a "safe haven" for foreign terrorists.
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After three months of fighting between Islamic militia and tribal warlords reportedly backed by the U.S., the so-called Islamic courts movement was patrolling the streets of Mogadishu today, celebrating its takeover of Somalia's capital city.
Left out for the moment is a U.N.-backed transitional government in Baidoa, about 150 miles from Mogadishu. It has been unable to enter the capital because of the violence.
Somalia and its eight million people have been without an effective government since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew the ruling dictatorship.
In 1992, the U.S. and U.N. intervened to help end starvation there, but the warlords turned on the international forces the following year, killing 18 American soldiers in the now-famous "Black Hawk Down" incident. The U.S. left shortly after and has not had an official presence there since.
A decade of civil strife has followed, pitting the new Islamic courts movement against a new collection of warlords who claim the U.S. is covertly supporting them. U.S. officials have declined to confirm that but do contend that some suspects in the 1998 East Africa bombings are being sheltered by the Islamists.
Late today, as he left Texas, President Bush was asked about the Islamists' apparent victory in Mogadishu.
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Obviously, when there's instability anywhere in the world, we're concerned. There is instability in Somalia.
The first concern, of course, would be to make sure that Somalia does not become an al-Qaida safe haven, that it doesn't become a place from which terrorists can plot and plan, and so we're watching very carefully the developments there. And we will strategize more when I get back to Washington as to how to best respond to the latest incident there in Somalia.
Today, the chairman of the Islamic Courts Alliance, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, issued a letter saying, "We categorically deny and reject any accusation that were are harboring any terrorists or supporters of terrorism," and adding, "We would like to establish a friendly relationship with the international community."
Today, the Islamists and the transitional government both said they would begin talks with one another.