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American accused of training with al-Qaida in Somalia

Terror suspect Daniel Joseph Maldonado is the first American accused of training with al-Qaida in Somalia. He was returned to the U.S. last week and charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction outside the U.S. and knowingly receiving military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist group. He faces up to life in prison if convicted of a bomb-making charge.

Based on the evidence presented, Maldonado did receive military training, and in the camp where he was, al-Qaida members were there. US government alleges that Maldonado trained with radical Islamic camps in southern Somalia, which were controlled or attended by al-Qaida members, from November 2006 until January 2007.(1) Parts of Somalia, which has no functioning central government, have become havens for terrorist and other illicit activities, threatening the security of the whole region. A small number of al-Qaida terrorists, responsible for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, continue to operate in Somalia and are assisted by elements within the complicated Somali clan structure.(2)

Members of several terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, have sought refuge in Somalia in recent years. The lack of a functioning central government means Somalia’s borders can be crossed without visas and once inside the country, there’s no real law enforcement to speak of. Just a boat ride away from Yemen via well-traveled fishing and trade routes, Somalia has long served as a passageway from Africa to the Middle East. The International Crisis Group (ICG) identifies two active terrorist groups in Somalia. One is an al-Qaeda cell believed to be responsible for the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya, and later for the simultaneous bombing of a Mombassa resort hotel and failed missile attack on an Israeli passenger jet in 2002. Despite the high profile of this cell’s attacks, the ICG estimates the number of ranking al-Qaeda operatives in Somalia is less than half a dozen. The second terrorist group, composed largely of local jihadis, emerged in 2003 and has since carried out a number of massacres and assassinations, including the murder of an Italian nun. Led by Aden Hashi Ayro, who trained in Afghanistan, the group operates in decentralized units and has no clear ideological agenda. Some members of this new group, including Aryo, are former members of the now-defunct al-Itihaad al-Islaami, a Somali terrorist group from the 1990s whose militia once had more than 1,000 members, but was destroyed by Ethiopia after attacks on Ethiopian territory.(3)

More recently as situation instability in Somalia continues, Somali insurgents threatened suicide attacks on 22 February 2007 against African Union peacekeepers who are to be deployed in the coming days, as the capital’s international airport came under mortar fire. The newly formed extremist group known as the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations posted a new warning against planned peacekeepers. According to The Associated Press, a man who appeared in a video posting on an Islamic Web site reading from a statement stated “We promise we shall welcome them with bullets from heavy guns, exploding cars and young men eager to carry out martyrdom operations against these colonial forces” .(4)




3..Crisis Group Africa Report N°95, 11 July 2005