Pakistani Muslim missionaries killed in Somalia mosque. Why?

The brazen attack spotlights the presence of religious foreigners in a lawless country that US officials say could soon turn into the next terrorist haven run by militant Islamists.

Masked gunmen killed at least five Pakistani clerics after storming a mosque Wednesday in western Somalia.

Nobody but the killers seems to know yet why they launched the brazen attack, but it spotlights the presense of religious foreigners in a lawless country that US officials are worried could soon turn into the next terrorist haven run by militant Islamists.

Pakistan's foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit told the Associated Press that the victims belonged to the Islamic missionary movement Tablighi Jamaat, reports the Associated Press.

The killings come in the midst of a violent power struggle between moderate and extremist Islamists for control of the lawless country.

(Read Monitor Africa Bureau Chief Scott Baldauf's coverage of the struggle here.)

The killings also come just days after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised to provide more military aid and training to the weakTransitional Federal Government (TFG) during a meeting in Kenya last week with moderate President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.

Clinton's tough words

Mrs. Clinton said that militant Al Shabab group – which is trying to overthrow the TFG – are "a terrorist group with links to Al Qaeda and other foreign military networks" and said that they "see Somalia as a future haven for global terrorism."

"If Al Shabab were to obtain a haven in Somalia, which could then attract Al Qaeda and other terrorist actors, it would be a threat to the United States," she said.

Clinton also took the sharpest stand to date against the tiny Red Sea country of Eritrea, which the US and many security experts have long accused of funneling weapons and money to Somalia's extremists. "It is long past time for Eritrea to cease and desist its support for Al Shabab," she said. "We are making it very clear that their actions are unacceptable. We intend to take action if they do not cease."

Foreign fighters?

Back in May, the UN envoy to Somalia claimed that foreign extremists were driving the violence in Somalia and were behind an attempted coup against transitional president Ahmed.

Osama bin Laden called for the overthrow of Somalia's moderate Islamist president in an audio recording published on the internet in March.

Somalia now shelters an estimated 450 foreign fighters who were "egged on" by bin Laden's message, according Agence France-Presse (AFP).

According to the AFP report, many of the foreign fighters are concentrated in Garowe, in the northern breakaway state of Puntland, not far from where the Pakistanis were killed, in the town of Galkayo.

Somali extremists are also making in-roads deep into neighboring Kenya, recruiting disaffected young ethnic Somalis, as this in-depth Monitor story details.

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