Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Canadian arrested in Somalia allegedly member of Islamist militia

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

TORONTO — (Calgary Herald) A Canadian has been arrested in Somalia for allegedly planning to bomb leaders of a moderate political faction, according to local media reports that identified him as a member of the militant group Al-Shabab.

Abdifatah Mohamad Ibrahim appeared in court in the central Galgudud region, where authorities showed his Canadian passport to spectators, according to Radio Garowe and the Somali-language news site

The reports said he was arrested March 8 by clan militias loyal to Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama, which has been battling Al-Shabab. Authorities are investigating whether he was attempting to assassinate top Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama officers.

One report said he was arrested while driving a vehicle filled with explosives. He has been charged with five offences, including that he was trained to use explosives, that he planned bombings and that he intended to travel to Burao in Somaliland to "commit acts of insecurity," Radio Garowe reported. He has allegedly admitted that he was a trained member of Al-Shabab.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it was not aware of any recent arrests of Canadian citizens in Somalia but Ottawa has no diplomatic presence in the country. Consular officials in Nairobi were seeking further information on the matter.

"Due to the highly volatile and unpredictable nature of the security situation in Somalia, the government of Canada's ability to provide consular assistance to Canadians in distress is severely restricted," said Daniel Barbarie, a Foreign Affairs spokesman.

Al-Shabab, which means "youth," is an armed Islamist group that is often compared to the Taliban. It is suspected of links to al-Qaida. A handful of Canadians have travelled to Somalia to fight with the armed Islamists. One of them, Abdullah Ali Afrah, formerly of Toronto, was killed last summer while leading an ambush.

The reports of the arrest comes amid intensive investigations by Canadian and U.S. counter-terrorism officials into allegations that youths of Somali origin have ventured overseas to join Al-Shabab.

At a news conference in Somalia on the weekend, two young men claimed they were Americans and had travelled to Africa "to fight alongside our brothers of Al-Shabab" and "to be killed for the sake of God." Last Monday, a video posted on an extremist Internet site showed a man claiming to be an American leading an Al-Shabab ambush. The footage was accompanied by rap music about "keeping the non-Muslims living in fear."

Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said in an interview last week he was alarmed at reports of Canadians fighting in places like Somalia and said that "to get involved in terrorist organizations or jihadist movements, obviously that's inconsistent with our values and it's something that's alarming and that we watch."

Al-Shabab has become a priority in Washington in recent months. A senior FBI official told a Senate committee last month he was concerned that U. S. citizens in Al-Shabab could pose a threat should they return to the United States.

Somalia has been a lawless wasteland since 1991. The Islamic Courts Union, along with its militia Al-Shabab, emerged from the chaos and has been battling moderate militias, U.S.-backed Somali government forces and their Ethiopian allies for control of the country.

Canada is home to about 150,000 ethnic Somalis, according to a report by Canada's Integrated Threat Assessment Centre. Most are moderates but the report says that, "Some Somali-Canadians have fought as Islamist extremists in Somalia."

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