PRETORIA, Dec 12: The possibility is “very real” that terrorist cells linked to Al-Qaeda are present in Somalia, US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner said here Wednesday.
“The possibility of terrorist cells in Somalia is very real,” he said after arriving in South Africa late Tuesday night at the end of an 11-day visit to Africa which included Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
“Somalia is an environment that could be hospitable to terrorists and terrorist cells. The first goal is to make it inhospitable,” he told reporters at a press briefing, without elaborating.
Kansteiner said he believed the Somali hardline group Al-Ittihad al Islami (AIAI) had links with Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization blamed for the attacks on the United States in September.
“We have reason to believe that there have been flows of people and money through Al-Qaeda-AIAI connections, and we are looking for ways to close off that connection and capability,” he said.
Kansteiner would not comment on steps that might be taken by the United States. “There are a number of ways that I don’t want to get into here. I think we are exploring a lot of options.”
He said he could not confirm whether US troops were involved in operations in Somalia.
He said, however, that the United States had set itself three goals in the east African country, the first being to ensure that any possible terrorist activity was stopped.
The United States will work with its allies and Somalia’s neighbours to find ways to ensure it did not provide such a safe haven, he said.
“We don’t want Somalia and the activities from Somalia to be negative forces for the neighbourhood,” he added.
The United States will also assist Somalia towards stability and economic renewal, Kansteiner said, explaining that the efforts would entail working with both Ethiopia and Kenya to achieve the goals.
In a television interview with Fox News Channel on Tuesday, US Vice President Dick Cheney declined to name the countries which could be targeted in the ongoing US campaign against terrorism, but said both Iraq and Somalia could pose a threat to US security.
Kansteiner was to leave for the United States on Thursday.
Members of Somalia’s opposition Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA) said Tuesday that US officers had met with some of its leaders on Sunday in the town of Baidoa.—AFP