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Al-Shabab Leader Threatens Somaliland

By Alan Boswell
04 September 2009

The spiritual leader of the radical Somali militant group al-Shabab has sharply criticized the leadership of the breakaway region of Somaliland for having ties with Ethiopia. The radical leader also called the brand of democracy practiced in the Somaliland un-Islamic and demanded implementation of Sharia law.

In a thinly-veiled message warning of future attacks, al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Sheik Muktar Abu Zubayr, warns residents of Somaliland not to do business with Ethiopians and to stay away from Ethiopian-owned property.

In the taped message, the al-Shabab leader also ripped the territory's government, saying that that Somaliland democracy is responsible for the disunity among its leaders and has stomped on teachings of the Koran.

Somaliland's government has accused al-Shabab of being behind the suicide bombings in Somaliland's capital, Hargeisa, last October that killed nearly 30 people. The attacks targeted an Ethiopian government office as well as a United Nations building and the presidential palace.

The breakaway territory had previously been considered a haven of relative peace and security in the heavily-battered region. Somaliland's reputation as a rare model of democracy in Somalia has also taken a beating in recent months as national elections have been repeatedly delayed and the government has been accused of cracking down on dissent.

The breakdown in the nation's functioning democracy has led to concern that the territory's populace may lose faith in its institutions, making it susceptible to overtures from militant Islamists.

Ethiopia is currently mediating discussions between the government and opposition groups on disputes over the upcoming elections now scheduled for later this month.

Ethiopia and Somalia have a long and embittered relationship. Ethiopia's Ogaden region is predominantly composed of ethnic Somalis, and the two countries went to war over the region in the 1970's. The invasion and subsequent occupation of Somalia by U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops in 2006 fueled the Islamic insurgency in the Horn of Africa nation.

The al-Shabab leader accused the Ethiopians of bringing Christianity, alcohol, and AIDS into Somaliland.

The Western-backed Somali government in Mogadishu, which does not recognize Somaliland's claims to independence, condemned the tape.

Somaliland has cooperated with the U.S. and the West in anti-piracy efforts in hopes of eventually achieving international recognition as a separate state.

Al-Shabab is listed by the United States as a terrorist group.

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