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US Marines land on Somali coast to hunt militants
Updated: 2005-05-06 09:32

HARGEISA, Somalia - U.S. Marines landed on Somalia's coast in one of their most visible hunts for militants in the country since they set up a Horn of Africa counter terrorism force in 2002, Somali officials said on Thursday.

Two boats brought about 20 lightly armed Marines to the fishing village of Maydh in the northwestern enclave of Somaliland on Tuesday, where they showed pictures of suspected "terrorists" to locals before leaving, residents said.

"They met some of the fishermen and the people and they showed some pictures they were carrying, saying that these people are terrorists that they are trying to capture," Assistant District Commissioner Ali Abdi told Reuters.

It was not clear who the Marines were looking for.

The Marines' arrival coincided with signs of U.S. military activity elsewhere along the coast of Somaliland, a relatively stable region which declared independence in 1991 to escape chaos engulfing the rest of Somalia, but which is not internationally recognized.

Two U.S. military helicopters flew low over parts of the Gulf of Aden port of Berbera on Wednesday, including the docks, airport, a fuel depot and former barracks, residents said.

Reporters said three U.S. vessels, including a helicopter carrier, had been spotted on Tuesday at the port of Las Qorei, where Marines questioned fishermen about local shipping.

Somaliland's interior minister declined to comment. Officers from the U.S. task force based in neighboring Djibouti since December 2002 to hunt down any militants in the region were not immediately contactable for comment.

Washington fears al Qaeda cells may be seeking new havens in the Horn of Africa where weak political institutions and poor policing of deserts and coastlines might provide places for militants to plan attacks on Western targets elsewhere.

In late 2003, some militia bosses and ordinary residents reported that a top al Qaeda suspect -- Fazul Abdullah Mohammed from the Indian Ocean Comoros islands -- had been spotted in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

U.S. officials say he masterminded the bombings at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya in 2002 that took place within minutes of a failed attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner.

In March 2003, a suspected associate of Fazul, Suleiman Abdalla Salim Hemed, a Yemeni, was captured in Mogadishu with the help of warlord Mohammed Dheere and taken into U.S. custody.

Activities by the U.S. force are usually largely invisible to the public, which aims to deter militants from operating in the region through approaches including training national security forces, aerial surveillance and checks on shipping.

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