DUBAI: Stirring as it might sound, an Internet appeal from Al Qaeda for Muslims to go to Somalia and wage holy war is unlikely to amount to much, experts on Islamic extremism say.
Penetrating the lawless and strife-torn Horn of Africa country is difficult, if not impossible, they say, and even if jihadis got in, they would find its Islamist insurgents surrounded and near defeat.
With Somali government forces, backed by Ethiopian troops, closing in on the last known Islamist hold-out near the Kenyan border, Al Qaeda’s number two Ayman al-Zawahiri posted an audio appeal on the Internet for “all Muslims to respond to the call for jihad in Somalia.” “I call on the lions of Islam in Yemen, on the Arabian peninsula, in Egypt, in Sudan and the Arab Maghreb to come to the rescue of their Muslim brothers in Somalia,” he said in the recording, which emerged on Friday.
“The real war will start with attacks against the Ethiopian forces of aggression,” added Zawahiri, although the authenticity of the recording had yet to be verified.
He recommended such tactics as ambushes, landmines and suicide missions, and encouraged the insurgent Islamic Courts to draw lessons from guerrilla fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Egyptian military expert Mohammed Nabil Fuad said that, having lost their last stronghold at Kismayo, the Islamist militias have found themselves “surrounded, and it will be hard for them to receive volunteers and weapons”.
“What’s more, given the desert-like nature of the terrain, any movement would be easy to detect -- and any infiltration would be almost impossible by the sea, which is controlled by US forces” and those of other nations.
Saudi political analyst Zuhair al-Harithi said that “Zawahiri’s appeal risks being a pious hope”.But he observed: “Having been pursued in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al Qaeda seems to be looking to gain a foothold in Somalia, which is fertile land for extremist ideologues due to its deplorable economic situation.” “Success for Al Qaeda hangs on the way the situation in Somalia develops,” he added.
“If the government can ensure security for Somalis, it will close the door on Al Qaeda. But if instability and civil war persists, Somalia will be fertile ground” for the terrorist network spearheaded by Osama bin Laden.
Fellow Saudi analyst Hani Nakchabandi agreed.
“Security hinges on bread and prayer. Zawahiri’s call will only be a sermon in the desert if the government ensures security for Somalis,” he said.
“The Muslims to whom Zawahiri is directing his remarks have noticed how previous calls to jihad in Afghanistan and Iraq have led to Guantanamo, death or prison,” Nakchabandi said.
“I doubt very much that such Muslims, dismayed by the hanging of Saddam Hussein, will be interested in what’s going on in Somalia.” Jamal Ismail, director of the Al-Quds information centre, a private think-tank in Islamabad, begged to differ, saying that Zawahiri’s remarks will find favour amongst Al Qaeda’s supporters and sympathisers.
“Of course, getting into Somalia involves many obstacles and dangers, due mainly to the geographic environment,” said Ismail, one of the few journalists ever to have interviewed Osama and Zawahiri.
“But neither land and sea patrols, nor patrols along the Kenya border, will stop the infiltration (of jihadis). It certainly would be difficult, but it would not be impossible.” On the Internet in recent days, many Islamists have expressed the hope that “the war has only just started” and that “Somalia will be a place to wage guerrilla combat, following the example of Afghanistan and Israel”. As one wrote: “Somalia will become the Makkah of the mujahedeen.”