July 28, 2006

Somali minister assassinated outside mosque

By Guled Mohamed

BAIDOA, Somalia (Reuters) - Gunmen shot dead a Somali
government minister outside a mosque on Friday in a killing
sure to exacerbate tensions in the violence-plagued Horn of
Africa nation.

The attackers opened fire on Constitution and Federalism
Minister Abdallah Deerow Isaq as he left prayers in the
provincial town of Baidoa, witnesses and officials said.

"It looks like an organized assassination," Information
Minister Mohamed Abdi Hayr told Reuters from Baidoa, seat of
the fragile interim Somali government.

"So far we do not know who did it. They shot him as he was
leaving the mosque then ran off. Police are chasing the

Formed in 2004 in the 14th attempt to restore central rule
to Somalia since the 1991 ousting of a military dictator, the
government's authority has been challenged by the rise of an
Islamist movement that took Mogadishu and other towns in June.

With Ethiopian troops said to be in Somalia to support the
government, and Eritrea believed by many to be arming the
Islamists, many Somalis are bracing for war.

In Mogadishu, another mysterious plane landed on Friday,
fuelling suspicions the Islamists were receiving weapons
deliveries. Their militia blocked roads near the airport as
unidentified cargo was unloaded.

Residents said several trucks came to collect the delivery
from the airport. "The people couldn't enter the airport
because security was so tight," resident Hawo Hussein said.

"The Islamists are arming themselves and now we have to
wait for fighting," said another resident, Abdullahi Ali.


The Islamists recently reopened the airport. Since then,
three planes have landed. The first collected a delegation of
Islamists for peace talks in Khartoum.

On Wednesday, a cargo plane delivered goods an Islamist
aide said were sewing machines. But the government pointed the
finger at Eritrea, which it said was secretly arming the

In what government sources say were moves to draw the
Islamists into peace talks and avert war, 18 ministers and
other top officials quit the interim government on Thursday and
lawmakers sought to oust the prime minister.

Regional diplomats and analysts say offering the prime
minister's job and some other ministerial posts to the
Islamists could be the only way to secure peace.

But there is no guarantee the Islamists will accept this.
Nor is it clear how long it might take to thrash out a deal.

The Islamists' most powerful leader, hardline cleric Sheikh
Hassan Dahir Aweys, has ruled out any meeting unless Ethiopia
stops its "invasion" of Somalia.

Ethiopia, which is allied to President Abdullahi Yusuf's
government, denies sending troops and has also accused old foe
Eritrea of supplying arms to the Islamists.

The United Nations has an arms embargo on Somalia. But it
has been ignored for years, and the nation of 10 million people
is awash with light and heavy weaponry.

(Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Nairobi)