Somalia Festers as Islamist Militia Advances

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Islamist militia have held Somalia's capital for nearly a week. A U.S.-backed alliance of warlords has failed to hold control in the desperately poor African nation. Freelance reporter Mohamed Olan Hazan sets the scene for Scott Simon.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, the larger-than-life president of one of Louisiana's hardest hit parishes.

But first, Mogadishu, Somalia has been relatively quiet since an Islamist militia seized control of that city earlier this week. The militia, which is also known as the Islamic Courts Union is now reportedly negotiating with rival clans to consolidate power in Mogadishu and beyond. Mohamed Olan Hazan is a Somali-freelancer. He's on the line from Mogadishu. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. MOHAMED OLAN HAZAN (Freelance Reporter, Somalia): Thank you.

SIMON: There are reports that the Islamist militia is moving north to try and take control of some of the cities that warlords have held for some time. Does this seem to you as if there's a strategy on the part of the Islamist militia to try and extend their control beyond the capital?

Mr. HAZAN: One of the (unintelligible) speaking to a local radio that there were people in their struggle throughout the country. Other Islamic courts obviously say, no, they are not moving anywhere. They are going to restore law and order in the capital. On the other hand, moving to other areas in the country has created anger in some of the main clan (unintelligible) Mogadishu (unintelligible) Mogadishu, the Afghan clan has been against any move of the Islamic courts, so they have been demonstrating and then warnings to the Islamic courts to stay out of these areas.

SIMON: You know there is concern in the United States and Europe that the Islamist militia are tied to al-Qaida and perhaps other terrorist groups. What do you make of that concern? Do you see any evidence of that?

Mr. HAZAN: Really there have been rumors in the Somali capital of Mogadishu that within the Islamist militia, a number of foreign terrorists (unintelligible), but nobody's come verify whether these terrorists are still hiding out here in Mogadishu.

SIMON: What about reports that the Islamist militia has received some financial support from Saudi Arabia and Yemen?

Mr. HAZAN: That's something widely believed here in Mogadishu. Nobody can verify, but we know the Islamists are now funding a lot of militias here in Mogadishu, giving some salaries to their militiamen. About $100,000 is spent every day in this militia, so people are skeptical where this money comes from.

SIMON: What about reports that we have read here in the United States that people in Mogadishu, some were quite glad to see Islamist militia take over. Is that true? Did you see evidence of that?

Mr. HAZAN: Most of the people here in Mogadishu are Muslim so there are many people who are very happy with the steps taken by the Islamic court. They say the (unintelligible) this nation for the last 16 years without development. So now we have to give the Islamists their chance to restore law and order.

SIMON: Are there Islamist courts operating in Mogadishu now?

Mr. HAZAN: Yes, there have been about 12 Islamic courts in Mogadishu. As soon the Islamists took over the Consulate of the capital, three other Islamic courts have joined the union.

SIMON: And that could make a big difference in the way people in Mogadishu live, couldn't it? Like women could be forced to wear a shadur[ph] or not even go out on the streets alone, women might be removed from schools.

Mr. HAZAN: No, that has never happened here in Mogadishu. That's a very extreme position of the Islamists, but these Islamists here in Mogadishu seem to be - have taken light steps before they go farther into that area.

SIMON: Thank you very much, Mr. Mohamed.

Mr. HAZAN: Thank you (unintelligible).

SIMON: Mohamed Olan Hazan, a freelance reporter speaking from Mogadishu.

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