Islamists Regain Ground and Strength in Somalia

December 7, 2008

Author: Edmund Sanders

Source: The Los Angeles Times,0,1139540.story

Two years after being routed from Somalia's capital, an anti-Western Islamic movement is poised for a comeback in the besieged Horn of Africa nation.

Although the movement is divided by competing ideologies and goals, it has nonetheless made many gains recently through a combination of brutal force and political dialogue.

The militant wing, Shabab, which claims affiliation to Al Qaeda, now controls 90% of southern Somalia, including parts of the capital, Mogadishu. The moderate faction signed a peace deal with Somalia's transitional government that could hand it half the seats in parliament.

Islamists who fled two years ago after their defeat by Ethiopian troops who had crossed the border to prop up Somalia's government are reemerging to assert their authority in several cities, often imposing strict Islamic laws against dancing, drinking or conducting business during prayer time. They're even starting to flex their muscles again to halt piracy offshore.

"They're back with a bang," said Rashid Abdi, Somalia analyst at International Crisis Group, a conflict-resolution think tank. "They actually control more territory now than they did in 2006."