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More Signs of Trouble in Somalia
The decision of the Islamist militias controlling Mogadishu to name a designated terrorist and known al Qaeda collaborator as its leader is another strong indication that, while the group may try to talk a moderate line, it has no intention of moderating it's radical, Taliban-style agenda.

Hassan Dahir Aweys was designated a terrorist supporter under Executive Order 13224, and has a long history of associating with Osama bin Laden and other Salafist groups. The International Crisis Group has the best field research available on him and his past activities.

The appointment could mean the marginalization of those within the Salafist movement and a reassertion of the most hardline elements. It is notable that the move was made while more international attention than usual is focused on the ebbing conflict in Somalia, where so far the Salafists have won in a rout. It could be interpreted as showing the newly-triumphant Salafists are willing to take whatever in-you-face moves necessary to consolidate their grip.

Last week, the group's previous leader, Sharif Ahmend, agreed to halt military activities and recognize the weak and ineffectual U.N.-backed interim government. He seemed to back away from the goal of imposing sharia law on the entire country, saying he was willing to "abide by the will of the people."

That may have been to much for the old-line jihadists who have struggled since the early 1990s to install an Islamist state in a country that has virtually ceased to exist. Aweys is one of the most outspoken leaders of that old guard. ICG identifies him as the the protector and mentor of Aden Hasi'Ayro, the young, Afghanistan-trained leader of the hardline Islamists.

Since the failed international intervention there, led by the United States, the world has tended to disengage from the violent area, where complicated clan and tribal loyalties are little understood and history is often unread or misunderstood. Controlling no strategic assets except its location, it is easy to see why Somalia has attracted so little attention.

The other reason is that there are no good options. The U.S. effort to arm the counter-Islamist militias was a signficant failure. There is no support for boots on the ground.

There is no government to sanction or trade embargo to be imposed. No targetted list of individuals with signficant assets outside the country. Multilateral counterparts like the African Union have been paralyzed in Darfur and are even less active on Somalia.

The traditional tool box is virutally useless.

Yet the risks are too high to ignore. Another al Qaeda haven, or refuge for the numerous regional groups that are springing up pledging loyalty to the concept of jihad against the West is unacceptable.

This is a challenge that will emerge again and again in coming years. Finding the answers and getting it right-or at least partially right-is of true national signficance. Failure to do so will open the door for al Qaeda to replicate the so-far successful experiment again and again.
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