'US planes hunting Islamists'
Andrew Cawthorne, News24.com, June 12, 2007 (SA)
Bosasso - US aircraft are hunting foreign jihadists in the remote mountains of northern Somalia where US forces launched air strikes earlier this month, a regional official said on Tuesday.
Ibrahim Artan Ismail, security minister in the regional Puntland government, said his administration was working closely with the US military to help target the fighters.
"We are aware US planes are searching for the suspected Islamists," Ismail told a news conference in Bosasso.
"As you know, the suspected Islamists fighters are still on the run. Puntland is working closely with the Americans to seize them."
He gave no other details, but residents said suspected US aircraft were often seen in the skies over Puntland these days.
Earlier this month, another Puntland government official said six foreign Islamist fighters, including an American and a Briton, had been killed in gun battles with local forces and US air strikes that rocked the area on June 1.
US 'launched airstrikes'
US officials declined to comment on a CNN report that the air strikes were targeting a suspect in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 240 people.
The United States also launched air strikes in southern Somalia in January aimed at three top al-Qaeda suspects but killed the suspects' allies instead, US officials have said.
The suspects were believed to be in a group of Islamists who fled the capital Mogadishu in January after being routed by the Somali interim government and its Ethiopian military allies.
Washington says six al-Qaeda operatives or associates are in Somalia, including alleged embassy bomber Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, and Abu Talha al-Sudani, accused of orchestrating the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya that killed 15.
Others include Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, hardline leader of the ousted Somali Islamic Courts Council, and Adan Hashi Ayro, head of SICC's feared military wing, the Shabaab.
SICC remnants have been blamed for a wave of guerrilla attacks mostly targeting Ethiopian troops in the capital.
'There is no chance'
Diplomats tracking Somalia said on Tuesday they saw no chance of the government being able to stage a national reconciliation conference slated to start in Mogadishu on Thursday, because of insecurity and lack of preparation.
"There is no chance," one Nairobi-based Western diplomat said, predicting a formal announcement on Wednesday that the conference was being postponed for a second time.
"I have spoken to some of them (in the government) and they all say it won't happen. They have not even set an agenda or picked the delegates. They will announce a delay tomorrow and blame lack of donor funding."
A previous attempt to stage the conference - seen by the international community as a crucial prerequisite to any attempt at achieving lasting peace in Somalia - was postponed in April.
In public, at least, the Somali government said the event would be going ahead.