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Terrorism & Security

Islamic insurgents target foreign aid workers in Somalia

As the violence escalates, observers warn of famine and the worst humanitarian crisis on the African continent.

By David Montero / July 21, 2008

In a chilling development, Islamist insurgents in Somalia have launched what appears to be a targeted campaign of violence against foreign aid workers, pushing the already war-torn nation toward a full-scale famine, United Nations officials and observers warn.

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The warnings come amid fresh violence that has left many civilians dead in the Somalian capital, the central battleground between the Western-backed government and armed Islamist militias.

The Islamist insurgents, who are fighting for the creation of an Islamic state, have long attacked foreigners working inside Somalia. But the recent spate of violence suggests the attacks have now coalesced into a deliberate terror campaign, The International Herald Tribune reports.

Ominous leaflets recently surfaced on the bullet-pocked streets of Mogadishu, Somalia's ruin of a capital, calling aid workers "infidels" and warning them that they will be methodically hunted down. Since January, at least 20 aid workers have been killed, more than in any year in recent memory. Still others have been abducted....
The attacks on aid workers – including Westerners, Somalis working for Western organizations and Somalis working for local groups – have escalated this month. Two weeks ago a high-ranking UN official was shot as he stepped out of a mosque. Last Sunday, a trucking agent in charge of transporting emergency rations was killed. On Thursday, three elders who were helping local aid workers distribute food at a displaced persons camp were shot and killed.
In response, the United Nations is withdrawing some employees from dangerous urban areas and cutting back on operations across the country.

The government of Somalia, backed by the Ethiopian Army and the US, has been struggling for two years to ward off a growing Islamist insurgency, factions of which are said to be allied with Al Qaeda. On June 9, the government of Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein tried to broker a peace accord with some of the hardline Islamist groups, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The June 9 accord gave all sides a month to start enforcing a ceasefire.
But it was quickly rejected by Islamist hardliners including the Shebab group, which insists that the Ethiopian forces should withdraw before any talks start.

Ethiopia currently has thousands of troops stationed in Somalia to assist Mr. Hussein's transitional government. Their continued presence has become a bone of contention between hard-liners and the government. Although he offered no timetable for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, Hussein told AFP that he is willing to engage with Shebab – which is said to be linked to Al Qaeda – if that will ensure peace.

Violence has soared since the breakdown of talks, pitting Ethiopian soldiers against Islamist insurgents, with civilians often caught in between. On Monday, several civilians were killed in the crossfire, the Associated Press reports.

Hours of fighting in the Somali capital killed at least seven civilians, including three young siblings who were leaving a religious school when a mortar landed nearby, witnesses said Monday.

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