Islamist fighters in Somalia last night warned of deadly reprisals on Britain's streets if the West mounted military action in the war-torn east African state.
As a conference on Somalia's future closed in London, the country's President appealed for bombing raids on the positions of al-Shabaab, which recently merged with al-Qa'ida. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said he would welcome air strikes against the "menace" of the insurgents, warning: "This isn't a Somali problem, it has to be addressed globally."
David Cameron left open the option of authorising action against al-Shabaab, which controls much of Somalia, but he made clear his preference for a lasting political settlement.
Last night the spokesman for the Islamist group, Sheikh Ali Dhere, warned it could launch terror attacks in the West if countries such as Britain and the US intervened in Somalia. "Your peace depends upon us being left alone," he told Channel 4 News. "If you do not let us live in peace, you will not enjoy peace either."
Al Shabaab was not invited to yesterday's conference, but Mr Cameron insisted its fighters could be brought into the tentative political process if they laid down their weapons and genuinely renounced violence.
Several dozen Britons are thought to be fighting for Al Shabaab and the fear in intelligence circles is that they could return to this country on UK passports with the expertise and motivation to launch terror attacks. The UK believes that Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan are now the world's main breeding grounds for Islamist terrorism.
Representatives of the 55 governments and international organisations at the conference included the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon and the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They signed a final communiqué calling for renewed action to disrupt terrorists travelling to and from Somalia and urging countries in the region to tackle money laundering and the financing of militant groups. They also backed a fresh attempt to catch the pirates operating with near impunity off the Somali coast and to find and prosecute the "kingpins" behind them.
The power vacuum in the country has allowed pirates to disrupt important shipping lanes and kidnap several western tourists. The British woman, Judith Tebbutt, is still missing after being seized five months ago from a Kenyan resort near the Somali border. Tanzania has agreed to detain and try suspected pirates captured by the Royal Navy, with Mauritius expected to follow suit.
Britain will lead an international taskforce that will attempt to identify the figures behind the pirate trade and to agree a common declaration that ransoms will never be paid. Somali pirates are estimated to have earned about £110m from ransoms last year.
The conference also called for "new momentum" to be injected into the political process, agreeing that a permanent government should replace Somalia's temporary regime by August.
Terror threat: Who are Al-Shabaab?
The group exercises control over vast swathes of the south, where it imposes its own version of Sharia, and until recently had fought African Union forces for control of Mogadishu. In August 2011, Al-Shabaab began pulling fighters out of Mogadishu, raising hopes that humanitarian groups would be able to step up aid deliveries. Its fighters come from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Gulf region, as well as the United States and Britain.
Last month, the group's leadership announced that Al-Shabaab would be joining forces with Al Q'aida – with whom it had previously shared ideological ties.
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