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2008-05-05

Thousands of Somalis Protest Deadly US Air Strike

Guests

Abdi Samatar, professor of geography and global studies at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of several books and publications on Somali history, politics and culture.

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Thursday’s air strike comes in the midst of a deepening humanitarian crisis in Somalia that the International Committee of the Red Cross described as “catastrophic.” Over one million people have been made internal refugees, and 3.5 million, or nearly half the country’s population, may need food aid by the end of the year. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of people in central Somalia came out Sunday to protest a US air raid that killed more than a dozen people Thursday. Among the dead is Aden Hashi Ayro, a man the United States says was al-Qaeda’s leader in Somalia.

Ayro was a military commander of the armed opposition group, Shabab. The group had functioned as the military wing of the short-lived government led by the Union of Islamic Courts before it was forced from power in December 2006 by US-backed Ethiopian troops. Since then, Shabab has been one of the main groups carrying out attacks against Ethiopian and government forces in Somalia.

It was added to the US government’s terror list in March of this year. Washington said Shabab members were trained by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and hosted suspects wanted for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Shabab denied the allegations and said they were not terrorists but told Reuters “now we’ve been designated terrorists and forced to seek out and unite with any Muslims on the list against the United States.”

Sheikh Ibrahim Sulley is the spokesperson for the Union of Islamic Courts. He condemned Thursday’s attack in an interview with Al Jazeera and warned the United States against further action.

    SHEIKH IBRAHIM SULLEY: [translated] This attack was cowardly and aggressive. We condemn the international Arab and Islamic community’s silence. These bombs are making Somalis more united. These people do not need bombs. They need international humanitarian help. It is good for America to stop. If America continues what it is doing, they will reap the harvest of the crop they have sown.

AMY GOODMAN: Thursday’s air strike comes in the midst of a deepening humanitarian crisis in Somalia that the International Committee of the Red Cross described as “catastrophic.” Over one million people have been made internal refugees, and 3.5 million, or nearly half the country’s population, may need food aid by the end of the year, the UN Food and Agriculture organization has warned.

Nearly a hundred people have been killed in the past three weeks alone. Late last month, Ethiopian soldiers raided a mosque in the Somali capital, killing twenty-one people, kidnapping forty-one children, this according to Amnesty International.

To discuss the latest in Somalia, I’m joined in Minneapolis by Abdi Samatar. He is professor of geography and global studies at the University of Minnesota. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Samatar.

ABDI SAMATAR: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the reaction to the US air strike?

ABDI SAMATAR: I think it’s quite befuddling to Somalis and many other peace-loving people around the world as to why the United States has chosen to bomb people who are desperate for assistance and food and who have been dislocated and traumatized by an Ethiopian invasion, a country that has its own people under tyranny in itself. So it’s surprising to Somalis that the United States, who is supposed to be the beacon of democracy, is using all the terror tactics that it condemns in this instance, and people across the country have been demonstrating against this.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what happened with the air strike. Who got hit? Who got killed?

ABDI SAMATAR: Well, according to the reports and telephone calls from Dusa Marreb in central Somalia, it’s not quite certain whether it was planes or missiles sent from a ship on the Indian Ocean or a plane from — based in Gode, Ethiopia.

But that — the gentleman by the name Aden Hashi Ayro, who was a target of the United States Department of Defense and the CIA for quite a long time, him being accused that he was trained in Afghanistan, and therefore because he’s trained in Afghanistan, he is by nature guilty of being a terrorist. There has been no evidence produced so far that he has been linked to any terror attacks in Somalia against anybody else other than the Ethiopians themselves. So it seems to be that presumptions repeated sufficient times become a replacement or a substitute for reality.

The other people who have been killed, an area about the size of a sort of two blocks in places like Minnesota, for instance, has been leveled, and the majority of the people who were killed were innocent civilians, much like what the Ethiopians have been doing in Mogadishu itself.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain the Shabab.

ABDI SAMATAR: The Shabab used to be part of the wing, youth wing, of the Islamic Courts. Many of them are very religious. Aden Ayro has never been known to be quite religious. He has never sort of said many things that will suggest that he’s an Islamist. It seems to me that he was a nationalist who was trained in Afghanistan who was opposed both to the warlords who used to control Mogadishu before the Union of Islamic Courts took off and before the Ethiopians came in, but that the many members of the Shabab, and to the order of about 250 of them, have broken ranks with the Union of Islamic Courts and the people who are based in Asmara, Eritrea, who are fighting against Ethiopians.

The Shabab claim that the Union of Islamic Courts and their allies have sort of reneged on the promises which they have made, and therefore a few of them decided to do on their own. The Union of Islamic Courts spokesman, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in Asmara, said that these young men are fighters who are fighting the Ethiopians; they are not terrorists, in any sense of the word, and then, therefore, despite the fact that they have reneged on the promises and the agreements they had with the Islamic Courts, they remain to be nationalists.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Professor Samatar, geology professor and global studies —-

ABDI SAMATAR: Geography professor.

AMY GOODMAN: Geography professor and professor of global studies at the University of Minnesota. Just after this happened, word has come out today of tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets of Mogadishu over soaring food prices. Can you talk about what’s happening today?

ABDI SAMATAR: Well, what you see in Mogadishu over the last year and a half or so, since the Ethiopian invasion, which was sanctioned by the US government, has destroyed virtually all the life-sustaining economic systems which the population have built without the government for the last fifteen, sixteen years, and that the militia that’s supposed to be the very people who protect the population have been looting shops. For instance, the Bakara market, which is the largest market in Mogadishu and in the country, have been looted repeatedly by the militias of the so-called Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, supported by Ethiopian troops. And the new prime minister of Somalia, Mr. Hassan Nur Hussein, has himself announced in the BBC that it was his militias that -— who have looted this place. So what you have is a population that’s hit from both ends — on one end, by the militias of the so-called Transitional Federal Government, which is recognized by the United States, and on the other hand, by the Ethiopian invaders who seem to be bent on ensuring that they break the will of the people to resist as free people in their own country.

So the prices of — for instance, if I tell you a kilo of rice, which used to be somewhere in the order of about seventy cents, US cents, is now anywhere up to 250 cents — that’s $2.50. The average day’s income per person for anybody who’s able to hold a job in that incredible environment is less than a dollar a day. So the mismatch between incomes and the prices of commodities that are primarily imported from overseas is horrific, that nobody can afford this. And what you have is really terror in the worst sense of the word, that a million people have been displaced, that the Ethiopians and the Transitional Government have been denying them access to humanitarian input, and that the United States seems to just watch and let that happen itself. It’s as if there has been a calculated decision made somewhere in the world, maybe in Washington, maybe in Addis Ababa, maybe in Mogadishu itself, to starve these people until they submit themselves to the whims of the American military, in this instance, and the Ethiopians, who are acting on their behalf.

AMY GOODMAN: The latest reports we have, an Associated Press reporter seeing several people injured in the protest in Mogadishu; after that, tens of thousands took to the streets, hurling stones, smashing windshields of cars and buses.

ABDI SAMATAR: Well, what you have here is, you know, the Somalis have supported the war against terrorists, but they ask our country — that’s the United States — the simple question that the President, Bush, has asked the international community: are you with us, or are you against us? Here are people whose livelihoods have been destroyed, who’s dealing with an illegal occupation of Ethiopian forces, a government in Ethiopia that’s not a democrat, that’s harassing its own people and brutalizing its own people, and the Somali people are asking the United States: why are you supporting our terrorists, when we don’t support the terrorists that who are acting against you?

We don’t have an answer for the Somali people as Americans. And for me, this is quite critical for the so-called public diplomacy that the United States State Department has been an impact on. And that is, if we are interested in winning the hearts and minds of people around the world, and particularly the Muslim world, then what we need to do is be true to our ideals of democracy and respect for human rights, tell the Ethiopians get out of there, let the Somalis sort themselves out and promise the Somalis to support them as long as they play with internationally sanctioned rules of human rights and whatnot. That’s what the Somali people are asking, in my opinion

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Abdi Samatar, I want to thank you very much for being with us, a professor of geography and global studies at the University of Minnesota, author of several books and publications on Somali history, politics and culture. Thanks for joining us from Minneapolis.

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