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UN report: Al-Qaeda trained in Somalia
( 2003-11-05 10:17) (Agencies)

Al-Qaeda operatives who attacked a hotel and plane in Kenya trained, plotted and obtained weapons in neighboring Somalia, a U.N. report says, lending support to U.S. concerns the lawless Horn of Africa nation could be a haven for terrorists.

The draft report, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, details how an al-Qaeda cell trained in Mogadishu in November 2001, smuggled surface-to-air missiles from Somalia to Kenya in August 2002, then fled back to Somalia after attacking a Kenyan resort hotel and an Israeli charter aircraft on Nov. 28.

Twelve Kenyans and three Israeli tourists were killed when at least two suicide bombers rammed an explosives-laden car into the Paradise Hotel along the Indian Ocean coast. Almost simultaneously, two surface-to-air missiles were fired at an Israeli charter jet taking off from nearby Mombasa, but they missed.

At least four members of the terror cell remain in Somalia, according to the report prepared by a panel of experts appointed by the United Nations. The report did not name the four.

U.S. officials cited Somalia as a possible refuge for terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks and placed its largest company, al-Barakaat Group of Companies, and a Somali Islamic group, al-Ittihad al-Islami, on a list of groups believed to have links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

The United States also has frozen millions of dollars in al-Barakaat assets.

About 1,800 American troops have set up base in neighboring Djibouti as part of the war on terrorism. American and coalition aircraft and vessels have conducted surveillance of Kenya and Somalia.

Somali experts and an earlier U.N. report played down the terror threat, arguing that Somalia could be used as a transit point but not likely as a terrorist base.

"This of course will probably rekindle interest," Alex Vines, an Africa expert at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, said of the report.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said during a meeting with President Bush last month that "it is important for the U.S. to increase its involvement in this search for peace in Somalia."

Bush did not make any public commitment on expanding America's role in Somalia, where 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in 1993.

An international arms expert, who did not want to be identified, said analysts were seeing a marked change in militants in Somalia. He said Somali militants appeared more organized than before.

The U.N. experts began work in May to investigate violations of a 1992 arms embargo against Somalia a Muslim nation that has not had an effective government since the ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Violations of the arms embargo have enabled terrorists to obtain small arms, portable air defense systems, light anti-tank weapons and explosives, the report said.

"The panel believes that additional weapons may have been imported into Somalia solely for the purpose of carrying out further terrorist attacks," the report said.

The panel "has also learned of recent attempts by extremist groups to procure explosives on the Mogadishu arms market, as well as ongoing militia training in the use of explosives."

U.S. and Kenyan officials believe fugitive Fazul Abdullah Mohammed masterminded the November attacks. A native of Comoros, Mohammed has been indicted by a U.S. court in the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania that killed 231 people.

Shortly after the embassy attacks, al-Qaeda's East Africa network reorganized under Mohammed's leadership, the report said.

In November 2001, the cell gathered in Mogadishu, where senior members "provided junior members with ideological orientation and small arms training," it said.

A month later, the group dispersed and several members returned to Kenya.

The two shoulder-fired SA-7B missiles launched at the Israeli plane were delivered to Somalia from Yemen before being smuggled by sea to Kenya in August 2002, it said.

Ahead of the Nov. 28 attacks, the report said, the terrorists split into groups: one to attack the Paradise Hotel; another, led by Fazul, was to attack the airliner; a third was in Mogadishu; and a fourth went to Lamu, an island off the Kenyan coast, to prepare for their escape to Somalia, the report said.

The day after the attacks, the terrorists regrouped in Lamu, leaving for Somalia by boat two days later and most of the team stayed in Mogadishu, "living on cash allowances provided by their Sudanese financial controller." There were no details about the Sudanese financier.

Bin Laden, a Saudi exile, took refuge in Sudan until 1996, when he fled to Afghanistan.

Johan Peleman, head of the U.N. panel, told AP there had been a reduction in major violations of the arms embargo during the last six months, but said there was a "very worrying reality" of small quantities of weapons moving into the country.

"We show that we cannot entirely isolate the problem of violations of the arms embargo of Somalia you have to look at it from a broader regional security perspective. The case of the missiles shows that," he said.

The report is being reviewed by a U.N. sanctions committee before being sent to the Security Council.

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