Chaos Rules Somalia Decade After Battle
By CHRIS TOMLINSON, Associated Press
MOGADISHU, Somalia - The wreckage of a
Black Hawk helicopter lies tangled in a big prickly pear cactus. It's the
only remaining evidence of the fierce battle on a dusty side street a decade
ago that killed 18 U.S. soldiers and spurred
the exit of American peacekeepers.
On Oct. 3, 1993, Ali Shera was a lieutenant in warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid's militia, and Musa Hussein was a streetfighter
toting a Kalashnikov assault rifle. They said they rejoiced when they won the
19-hour battle against the world's only superpower.
"You can imagine Somalia, a small nation, we
beat the most powerful country in the world," Shera,
41, said while looking at the wreck. "For us, we were very happy we beat
But in the years since, the two men have come to hate the clan
militias that still prowl Mogadishu's streets and the
anarchy that has left Somalia a state in name only.
Shera and Hussein said they have seen too much
death and destruction.
"Now we are tired. We've fought each other, and we can't
defeat each other," said Hussein, 34, who along with Shera
is unemployed. "We hate to carry guns anymore."
While much of the aluminum from the Black Hawk's wreckage has
been cut away to make kitchen utensils, a turbine engine remains, along with
the floorboard and a steel beam from the frame, most of it concealed by the
Its carving-up mirrors what has happened to this arid,
Texas-sized country of 7 million people on the Horn of Africa.
Former President Mohamed Siad Barre ran a tightly centralized state during a 22-year
dictatorship, keeping opponents divided by cultivating distrust and hatred
among Somalia's six major clans. ' After he was overthrown in 1991, clan fighting spread
across the country, and no one has been able to form a central government
that can exert control.
Mogadishu itself has been
divvied up among seven faction leaders. While it is possible to pass from one
neighborhood to another, Somalis must be careful with whom they do business
or how long they stay in a neighborhood that isn't theirs.
At night, it is easy to tell good neighborhoods from bad. The
progressive ones have diesel generators for electricity, and people walk the
streets. But in the Medina district — controlled
by Muse Sude Yalahow —
there is only darkness and fear of his notoriously undisciplined gunmen.
The capital's main seaport and airport remain closed, primarily
because no clan has been able to gain control over them.
All foreign cargo and international travelers pass through other
makeshift ports controlled by separate sub-clans, where militiamen collect
user fees. The same system applies on highways at checkpoints manned by
That worries foreign terrorism experts, because anyone able to
pay the fees can enter Somalia. There is no
government to issue visas or immigration officers to check passports at the
five functioning airports or hundreds of docks.
While there is no evidence of terrorist training camps or
offices, at least one suspected al-Qaida member has
been snatched from Somalia and another
reportedly has been spotted in Mogadishu.
A warlord's gunmen captured a Yemeni named Suleiman Abdalla Salim Hemed in March. Authorities in neighboring Kenya claimed credit for
arranging his capture and said he provided them with "useful
information" about the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania as well as leads on
last November's attack at an Israeli tourist hotel on the Kenyan coast and
the unsuccessful attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner.
Kenya's minister in charge
of national security, Chris Murungaru, said in a
statement that Hemed was turned over to U.S. authorities. American
officials have refused to comment, and Hemed's
whereabouts are unknown.
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a native of Comoros
under U.S. indictment for the 1998 embassy bombings and a suspect in last
November's attacks, has reportedly been seen in Mogadishu, but he remains at
Somalis on the street know the United States is watching their
country, but they insist no international terrorists are operating from here.
They say Somalia is an ethnically
homogenous country, making it nearly impossible for a foreigner to go
"It is possible they are here," Hussein acknowledged.
"But everybody in Mogadishu knows that if you
capture an Arab man and say, `I have a terrorist for the CIA (news
sites) in America,' they will send a
plane for him."
As for Shera and Hussein, they hold no
ill will toward the United States and would like Somalia to have normal
relations with America.
"After the war ended between the Somalis and the Americans,
we forgot everything," Shera said. "That
was 10 years ago. I hope we can solve these problems and sit down and talk