Terror temperature rises in Somalia as PM survives attack

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The Independent Online

The unsuccessful attack by pirates on Saturday was the first on a luxury cruise liner in the area.

Three people were killed in the attack on the Prime Minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, as he visited the chaotic capital Mogadishu. He was unharmed in the explosion set off near his convoy, witnesses said. Mr Gedi was visiting from Jowhar, where a transitional government is based.

Political collapse in this failed state has created a power vacuum that is posing a danger to Somalis and the outside world. Since 2003, Somalia has witnessed the rise of a new, ruthless, independent jihadi network with links to al-Qai'da.

The former Italian colony has been without a functioning national government for 14 years and a transitional parliament, sworn in last year, has failed to end the anarchy. In the rubble-strewn streets of the ruined capital of Mogadishu, al-Qa'ida operatives, jihadi extremists, Ethiopian security services and Western-backed counter-terrorism agents are engaged in a shadowy and complex contest of intimidation, abduction and assassination.

On Saturday Somali pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades launched an unsuccessful attack on Seaborn Spirit as it rounded the Horn of Africa with 22 British tourists aboard.

The ship came under attack at 5.30am as the pirates approached in at least two speedboats shooting at the ship with grenade launchers and machine guns. They were repelled by the ships crew who set off electronic countermeasures, described as "a loud bang" by one of the passengers.

One crew member was lightly injured in the early-morning incident in waters about 100 miles (160km) off the Somali coast. "My daughter saw the pirates out our window," passenger Edith Laird from Seattle in the US told the BBC News by e-mail from the ship.

"There were at least three RPGs that hit the ship, one in a stateroom four doors down from our cabin," she said. Seabourn Spirit was carrying 302 passengers and crew, most of them Americans as well as some Britons and Australians. Yesterday there were calls for a naval task force to try to stop attacks in Somali waters - among the most dangerous in the world.

But it is unlikely that a naval task force would be able to quell the lawlessness which has wracked the country for decades. Beginning in 1993, a two-year US commanded UN humanitarian effort (primarily in the south) was able to alleviate famine conditions, but when the US withdrew in humiliation in Operation United Shield by 3 March, 1995, having suffered significant casualties, order had still not been restored.

During the 1990s, extremism in Somalia was centered on the al-Ittihaad al-Islaami, a band of Wahhabi militants bent on establishing an Islamic emirate in the country. Al-Qa'ida also became established and attacked US and UN peacekeepers using the country as a transit zone for terrorism in neighbouring Kenya.

Leading members of al-Qa'ida's East African network still hide in Somalia according to the International Crisis Group.

In Mogadishu yesterday Mr Gedi was making his second visit to Mogadishu since his appointment at the helm of the transitional government. Officials said he was travelling from the airport into the centre of the city when his convoy was attacked by gunmen, who hurled grenades and detonated a landmine. The blast is reported to have hit one of the vehicles in the convoy, and the prime minister's vehicle was also damaged.

At least one of Mr Gedi's bodyguards was reported to be among the dead.