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U.S. officials visit Somalia

From Catherine Bond
CNN Nairobi Bureau

BAIDOA, Somalia (CNN) -- U.S. officials visited a town in central Somalia over the weekend, humanitarian sources have confirmed to CNN.

The development comes amid speculation about where the United States might next strike when it expands the war against terrorism.

The visit on Sunday by the officials to the town of Baidoa, about 160 miles northwest of Mogadishu, prompted some to believe Somalia might be a target, but the Bush administration has not said where it might next strike.

The U.S. officials met with a Somali opposition group, the Rahanweyn Resistance Army, which controls the town of Baidoa. Sources said the delegation consisted of between five and nine individuals and arrived on a small charted flight from Nairobi, Kenya.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refused comment on the reports Tuesday.

"As you know well, we do not deny or confirm things of that type," he said.

Reports from Mogadishu say leaders of the Somali group told the U.S. officials of a training camp for Islamic militants in a town near Somalia's border with Kenya.

But regional analysts doubt the camp exists. Ethiopia, they say, wiped out such camps in southwest Somalia during the military incursions roughly five years ago.

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The camps were run by a Somali fundamentalist group called Al-Ittihad, which Ethiopia blamed for terrorist attacks inside its territory. Ethiopia says it killed more than two dozen non-Somali fighters when it destroyed those camps, leading it to conclude that Al-Ittihad had international terrorist links.

Though the Bush administration recently added Al-Ittihad on its list of "terrorist" organizations, analysts said it is no longer organized. All that is left, they said, are a number of Somali individuals linked to it in the past.

A Western diplomatic source in Nairobi said some people in Mogadishu were worried over indications that some people were moving out of the city in anticipation of a possible U.S. strike. But Western diplomatic sources said they knew of no terrorist targets in that city.

President Bush and top aides have only said that the war against terrorism would be long and not just confined to one country. The top priority, Bush has said, is disrupting the al Qaeda terrorist network run by Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday that the Bush administration has not yet decided the next focus of its anti-terrorist campaign. Washington would consult with its allies when a decision nears, he said.

"We have made the point all along that al Qaeda is a worldwide organization located in dozens of countries," Powell said at an appearance in London with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "And we won't be done with our work until each one of those cells is ripped up."

In addition to Somalia, U.S. analysts say Iraq and the Philippines are possible next stops for the American-led antiterrorist campaign. The Bush administration accuses Iraq of trying to produce weapons of mass destruction, while U.S. military advisers are already helping Philippine forces battle the Islamic guerrilla movement Abu Sayyaf.



 
 
 
 



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