SICS declare ‘holy war’ on Ethiopia after town falls

-File photo

Somalia’s powerful SICS movement on Monday declared ‘holy war’ against neighbouring Ethiopia after a Muslim-held town near the seat of the weak government fell to Ethiopian and Somali troops.
A day after warning of a regional war if Addis Ababa does not withdraw from Somali territory, the movement escalated their rhetoric, vowing to repel Ethiopian soldiers in a tacit warning to the transitional government.
“From today, I am declaring jihad against Ethiopia, which has invaded our country and taken parts of our homeland,” said Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, chair of the executive committee of the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS).
“The jihad is on from now (and) application of that will be directed by the supreme council,” he said in Mogadishu, which the SICS seized in June and have used as a base to expand through most of south and central Somalia.
Dressed in military fatigues and brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle, Ahmed, who is considered a moderate in a movement accused by the United States and others of ties to Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network, said war was inevitable.
“We will not allow the enemy to come and go,” he told reporters at a news conference, hinting the movement are ready to attack the government at its seat in Baidoa, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) north-west of Mogadishu.
“It is a religious responsibility to go the main headquarters of where the invasion originated,” Ahmed said. “It is the responsibility of each and everyone to defend his country from the naked aggression of Ethiopia.”
His comments came after officials and witnesses said Somali government soldiers backed by Ethiopian troops had briefly occupied the movement-held town of Burahakaba, about 60 kilometres (38 miles) south-east of Baidoa.
The move was the first offensive operation by the government, which has been wracked by infighting since it was formed in Kenya in 2004, the latest in more than a dozen attempts to restore stability in the anarchic nation.
“The stance were compelled to withdraw,” said Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim Bilal, an SICS commander in Burahakaba, from where his forces fled earlier in the day as the Somali and Ethiopian troops advanced. “We are now in full control.”
Witnesses told AFP that uniformed Ethiopian soldiers had left Baidoa to accompany government forces into the town.
“I saw at least 72 armed trucks with infantry troops on board passing in front of my house,” said Hussein Mursal Hassan, an elder in Baidoa.
But government commander Said Mohamed Hirsi adamantly denied that any Ethiopian soldiers were involved in the move on the town and said his forces had merely accompanied an official delegation there on a planned visit.
“This was a normal tour with no other intentions,” he told AFP on his return to Baidoa. “I categorically deny there were some Ethiopian troops in that mission. The Islamic courts are full of allegations that are not true.”
As it has done with repeated eyewitness accounts of Ethiopian troops in Somalia, Addis Ababa quickly denied it had anything to do with the Burahakaba operation.
“There are no Ethiopian troops that crossed the border,” said Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Solomon Abebe. “This is repeated false rhetoric and propaganda against Ethiopia.
“They want to use Ethiopia as a pretext to fulfil their motives, because they know Ethiopia is not going to accept terrorism and what the extremists are doing,” he told AFP in Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia, which is mainly Christian, is wary of the rise of the SICS whom it accuses of being “jihadists,” and has vowed to defend the Somali government and its calls for the deployment of a regional peacekeeping force.
Over the weekend, the movement accused Ethiopian troops of invading, shelling and mining areas around the border near the town of Beledweyne in Somalia’s central Hiran region and ordered the frontier closed there.
They also warned that a regional war was imminent unless Ethiopia pulled its troops out of Somali territory.
“Our forces will face them soon if they do not retreat,” said Sheikh Abdullahi Gurre, the main SICS representative in Beledweyne.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2006