via ST July 4, 2006:
Members of a group listed by the U.S. as a terrorist band are now running the capital of neighboring Somalia, days after Islamic fighters wrested control of the city from warlords, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Tuesday.
"The renowned extremist and terrorist organization, al-Ittihad, is at the helm of the current leadership in Mogadishu," Meles told lawmakers during a review of the situation in Ethiopia relations with neighboring countries. "We do not believe that all the forces that have taken control of Mogadishu and its surroundings are extremists."
Al-Ittihad is listed by the U.S. as a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida. Washington has accused the group of harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
U.N. officials say Al-Ittihad operates openly as a religious organization and is a powerful economic force in southern Somalia, where it captured key towns from warlords in June.
U.N. experts monitoring an arms embargo on lawless Somalia described Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys - heads of the powerful consultative council of the group that controls Mogadishu - as the al-Ittihad leader responsible for overseeing military training.
The military trainers for what constitutes "Al-Ittihad’s de facto army" reportedly include several Afghans and Yemenis, the U.N. experts said in a report released early last year.
Aweys, however, has denied being al-Ittihad’s leader and said the group has disbanded.
Despite the dramatic rise to power of the extremists, most residents and members of the group running Mogadishu are only interested in ending 15 years of anarchy and restoring peace and stability in the country, Meles said.
Still, Ethiopia is closely watching developments in Somalia and has deployed troops and military hardware on the border separating the two countries.
Ethiopian officials have previously accused al-Ittihad combatants of training, arming and helping Ethiopia’s ethnic Somali and Oromo separatist fighter.