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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Somlia Similar to Afghanistan in 2001 Says Whitehall

A growing number of young Somali Britons who have received “global jihad” training in Somalia pose a terrorist risk to the United Kingdom.
With al-Qaeda (AQ) in effect ousted from Iraq and constantly attcked by American Predator air attacks in Pakistan, the AQ franchise in East Africa, and notably Somalia, has become a greater focus of attention for the international counter-terrorist agencies.

“Somalia has some of the characteristics of Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 — a country of ungoverned space which AQ can exploit,” a senior Whitehall official said.

For Britain, the evidence of spreading AQ training camps in Somalia is particularly alarming because of the large Somali community in the UK. About 70,000 live in London, 10,000 in the borough of Tower Hamlets.

Jonathan Evans, the Director-General of MI5, has emphasised that three-quarters of the agency’s international counter-terrorism resources still have to be devoted to Pakistan because of the 400,000 Pakistani-Britons who travel back and forth to Pakistan every year. Most of the terrorist plots uncovered since 9/11 were connected in some way to Pakistan.

Somalia has moved up the agenda and is viewed increasingly as a terrorist haven and growing resource for AQ’s global ambitions.

Although it is believed that the motivation for young Somali Britons may principally be to receive instruction so that they can fight in Afghanistan or join jihad in Somalia, Whitehall officials accept that some might decide to use the expertise they have acquired in the camps to return to Britain and start planning attacks.

Two of the four men who were convicted over the plot to detonate bombs on Tube trains and a bus in London on July 21, 2005 were from Somalia. Ramzi Mohammad had come to the UK from Somalia with his family in 1998, and Yassin Omar had been in the UK since the early 1990s. They and two Ethiopian-born Britons, Muktar Said Ibrahim and Hussein Osman, were found guilty of conspiracy to murder.

MI5 categorises its counter-terrorism coverage by networks rather than individuals. So there is no unit specifically focusing on Somali suspects unless they are involved in a targeted network. The domestic security service has learnt since 2005 that networks are often of mixed ethnic make-up. The East African connection is assessed as a growing threat.

“There is no doubt that there is training activity and terrorist planning in East Africa, particularly in Somalia, which is focused on the UK,” Mr Evans said in a speech two years ago.

Since then there has been evidence that the threat has grown.
  • Whitehall officials said that the number of Somali Britons going to Somalia for training was “not huge” but was increasing.
  • As a consequence, and because the focus on AQ in Iraq has been downgraded, extra resources are being channelled into combating the East Africa/Somalia terrorist connection because of the perceived risk of trained British nationals returning from camps to become attack planners in the UK.

The Rest @ Times Online

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