'Go away US, we don't want you': Islamic fundamentalists could mobilise Somali discontent if the aid plan goes wrong, Richard Dowden reports from Mogadishu

THE GUNMEN are usually friendly. When you knock at the great steel doors which protect every home in Mogadishu, a man with a gun peers through a hole and, if you are a foreigner, lets you in. They greet you, and some smile. But at a mother-and-child clinic this week, the gunmen shouted: 'Go away Americans. We don't want you here.'

Telling them we were not Americans made no difference. They shouted: 'Americans, go away' again and waved their guns. Since most Somalis in Mogadishu say they welcome the Americans and since these gunmen were guarding a mother-and-baby clinic, this seemed excessive, but this clinic is run by Al Dawa al Islami, the Islamic aid agency. Al Dawa has its headquarters in Sudan and is known to have close links with Al Itahad, the fast growing Islamic fundamentalist movement in Somalia. They are known to oppose the American invasion, as they call it, and their leaders were unwilling to talk to journalists before discussing their plans.

Al Itahad, which means unity, is strong in the north-east, and its members are believed to have been responsible for the murder of UN aid workers in Bosasso this year. Their base is at the port of Merca, south of Mogadishu.

Abdullah Bakheil Ahmed is a softly spoken doctor from Sudan who runs four feeding centres in Mogadishu and two mother-and- baby clinics. He denies that Al Dawa receives any money from Sudan's Islamic fundamentalist government, but aid agencies working in Sudan say it is run by the government. Sudan's close links with Iran are causing concern among Sudan's neighbours, in particular Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and Washington believes that Islamic fundamentalist organisations involved in kidnapping in Lebanon have established themselves in Sudan.

Al Itahad is not believed to be ready to mount any serious physical opposition to the US forces but, as the myriad political parties fight and fragment, the movement offers a clear ideology. If the US plan goes wrong, Al Itahad could provide a rallying point for disaffected Somalis.

The three US military jets which flew over Mogadishu on Monday may have spotted a string of military vehicles heading out of town. Both General Mohammed Farah Aideed and Ali Mahdi, the leaders of the two factions which dominate Mogadishu, have pledged to hand in their weapons, but scores of 'technicals', the gun wagons of the fighting factions, have been leaving as the factions try to prevent them being confiscated by the Americans.

Cartoons in the cyclostyled sheets which pass for newspapers showed people digging holes to hide their guns, and a jeep with an anti-tank gun mounted on the back which usually stands outside the residence of General Aideed, was driven away at dusk on Monday night. Three nights ago 10 lorries and trailers loaded with fuel drums arrived outside the house of Osman Hassan Ali Atto, one of Mogadishu's richest men and the man who has bankrolled General Aideed. They were said to have come from Merca, a port supposedly closed for months by fighting. They have been unloaded and stored in the compound around Mr Osman Atto's house.

Such trade has continued throughout the diabolical 13-month war which has destroyed Mogadishu and driven millions from their homes and land to starve. Most of it goes on behind the high walls and heavily guarded steel gates which protect every villa in the southern part of the city where, with generators, freezers, radio telephones, and stocks of food and videos, the rich of Mogadishu and western aid workers survive.

On the streets, the Americans will find a broken town, without power for more than a year, its streets filled by day with scrapyard vehicles - most without lights or windscreens - so overloaded with people that they scrape the ground. Economic activity is restricted to kiosks lining the main roads. Usually run by women, they sell tiny bags of soap, sugar, tea or coffee, single cigarettes and of course khat, while their ragged children accost any vehicle which slows with cigarettes or chewing gum. In the centre of town where some of the worst fighting has taken place, erstwhile grand monuments to Italian colonialism are now heaps of rubble.

If the US forces move out of town they will see sodden green fields being planted out by women with hoes, and be struck by the sight of herds of sleek cattle and camels attended by young boys who wave at any passer-by.

The ports stand empty, but down the coast from Mogadishu at Danade the MV Adventure, a Kenyan freighter, is moored about a mile offshore. In a scene reminiscent of Africa 150 years ago, small craft crowd its hull. By the shore some 300 men in four lines stretching out into the surf which sometimes engulfs them pass box after box and sack after sack from the little boats to porters on the shore. A group of porters kneel, heads on the sand, saying their midday prayer.

This is the emergency food supply of the International Red Cross which is trying to feed about a million people in and around the capital. Further up the shore, Sean Brennan, an Irish Red Cross worker, sits under a thorn tree supervising the operation. He said that the 3,000 tons on the Adventure should take about 10 days to unload. 'You can't hurry things here,' he said. The Red Cross is determined to maintain its own primitive supply lines, whatever the Americans do - not only to ensure they keep flowing, but also to maintain a political distance from the American operation.

Where will the US forces find the starving people they have come to save? Not until they reach Baidoa, 200 miles west of the capital where two factions are fighting for the town. The Somali Democratic Movement, which originally held the town, are trying to stop the forces of the United Somali Congress, which have moved out of Mogadishu to avoid surrendering their weaponry. At least 30 people have been killed in three days and the fighting prevented food aid reaching people starving in camps near the town.

(Photograph and map omitted)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain