On September 24th, a militia affiliated with the Supreme Islamic Courts Council of Somalia took over the port city of Kismaayo, located some five hundred kilometers south of Mogadishu, the country's capital. This was the latest expansion by the Islamic courts militia, despite a June 22 agreement between the Islamic courts and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, in which both parties pledged to cease any further expansion. The Islamic courts reaffirmed this agreement during a subsequent round of talks on September 4.
One of the first actions of the Islamic militia in Kismaayo was to close down a radio station that was reporting on the takeover. Islamic courts’ militia also shot a teenage boy during local protests against the Islamic courts following the takeover of Kismaayo.
The U.S. has called upon the Islamic courts to demonstrate their intentions through continued peaceful dialogue with the Transitional Federal Institutions. Although the Islamic courts’ militias are now in control of Mogadishu and a large area of central and southern Somalia, there are concerns that this latest expansion will further undermine the dialogue between the Islamic courts and the Transitional Federal Institutions in Khartoum, as well as further destabilize the situation in Somalia. In recent public statements, the United States has called upon all Somali parties to resolve their disputes through peaceful dialogue, not military confrontation.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack offered this comment on the situation:
"The best way forward for Somalia is for a true national reconciliation among the various groups and tribal elements in Somalia. That's a hard process, given the current state of affairs in Somalia as well as its history. There's a lot of history there to overcome."
The individual Islamic courts, which are based on a combination of shari’a (Islamic law) and Somali customary law, were created in the mid-1990s by individual Somali sub-clans to establish local-level rule of law. The jurisdiction of each individual court was restricted to the relevant sub-clan. More recently, these shari’a courts expanded to include militias. According to some news reports, some elements within the Islamic courts have ties to al-Qaida, and the chairman of the Islamic courts’ Consultative Council, Hassan Dahir Aweys, has been designated as having links to al-Qaida by the United States and United Nations.
Jendayi Frazer, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, says, "Foreign terrorists can currently exploit the absence of governance, finding a safe haven in Somalia, while arms and criminals continue to flow in and out of the country, threatening the security of the entire Horn [of Africa region]." The U.S., she says, has "called upon the leaders within the Islamic courts to render foreign terrorist operatives currently in Somalia to justice. Such affirmative steps would demonstrate the intentions of the Islamic courts and indicate a show of good faith to the international community."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.