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Aired January 16, 2002 - 20:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: I'm Christiane Amanpour in Mogadishu. There's a great deal of talk here and there is a lot of panic. There are even reports that people are fleeing this capital for fear this country might be next on the U.S. bombing list targets. At this point, it seems unlikely. We'll examine the U.S. options when we return, LIVE FROM SOMALIA.

ANNOUNCER: A dangerous place, but is it a hideout?


JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Somalia is like a perfect haven for terrorists. There's no central government to speak of and we've been at war for more than 10 years.


ANNOUNCER: Are bucks for al Qaeda coming from this Somali bank? Tonight, collateral damage and the financial war against terrorism. Those stories and we'll introduce you to a group that fancies itself as the next Northern Alliance.

LIVE FROM SOMALIA, here's Christiane Amanpour in Mogadishu.

AMANPOUR: Over the next two nights, we'll focus on the Somalia connection. Almost a decade ago, when U.S. troops came here to end a feminine in Operation Restore Hope, Osama bin Laden issued a farqah (ph) against the U.S. presence in Somalia and there is some evidence, says the United States, that he sent operatives to train fighters to kill and pick off American soldiers.

But is there still an al Qaeda connection? The U.S. says there may be a financial one. The leaders hearsay there is no connection. And the leaders of the new government here in Mogadishu said that it issues the United States a challenge -- come here, investigate, if you fine any al Qaeda evidence, we will help you fight al Qaeda, if not, stay and help us reconstruct.

What are the U.S. options here? As one observer said, bombing a country like Somalia could amount to an exercise in rearranging the rubble.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) AMANPOUR (voice-over): Mogadishu's beleaguered traffic police fight a losing battle at one of the city's main intersections. Somalia is a collapsed state with no central government or authority and where the weapon is a law unto itself. Officials, businessmen and even journalists still can only operate with armed escorts in vehicles known as technicals, grizzling with Kalashnikovs and heavy machine guns.

But there does now appear to be a new level of friendliness and security in this capital since what's called the Transitional National Government took power a year and a half ago. So far, it only controls most of the capital, but it is trying to impose security here by hiring militias off the streets and training them for the new police force. So far, only 3,500 out of an estimated 20,000 militiamen are enrolled. The government doesn't have the money to hire more. These recruits haven't been paid in four months, and their new weapons look a lot like their old ones.

ABDIHASSAN AWALE, MOGADISHU POLICE CHIEF: He has to hand over the gun to the government. After 90 days, we provided the guns again for them, their guns, because the government has no weapon to provide the militia. And this is the situation.

AMANPOUR: Nonetheless, the police chief says crime in the city has dropped over the last year. He wants to crack down on illegal businesses, like this entrepreneur issuing false passports, especially as the government says it wants to help the U.S. hunt for al Qaeda.

The chief shows us the files of 12 Arabs who've been arrested and are under investigation, a Saudi, a Palestinian, 80 Iraqis and two Kurds. But like most Somalis, he swears neither Osama bin Laden now any of his henchmen could hide here.

Although a visiting U.S. official said recently that Mogadishu harbored no al Qaeda centers, Somalia factions are jockeying for favor with the United States, eager to be spared bombing and to engage American support.

ABDULKASSIM SALAT HASSAN, PRESIDENT, TRANSITIONAL NATIONAL GOVERNMENT: There's no need for American forces. We need the American presence, but we need the American help, the American assistance, the American friendship, because the Somali people is friendly to the American people.

AMANPOUR: At the site of the 1993 helicopter crash and the battle that left 18 Americans soldiers dead and a policy in tatters, there is no shrine, no monument. In fact, you can barely pick out parts anymore for the giant cactus plant that now hides the wreckage.

(on-camera): Perhaps this overgrown heap is the perfect metaphor for what Somalis tell us they fell about America today, that they are tired of fighting, that they want to put this terrible incident behind them, they want to forget it and try to open a new chapter in their relations with the United States.

(voice-over): Somalia is an Islamic country, but it's not fundamentalist. At the police academy, the chief is eager to show off this sergeant, a woman. "We're not like the Taliban," he says.

At weddings and other social gatherings, as well as at work, women and men mix in public, and though Somalia did have its own domestic Islamist movement, known as Al-Ittihad al-Islamia (ph), the government says it's been disbanded, its members mostly absorbed into society. Today, they say, Somalia wants to be rescued from itself.


AMANPOUR: Now, here we are in Mogadishu, but of course, this country is heavily factionalized and heavily divided. There is the break away secessionist Republic of Somaliland in the north, in the horn of Africa, Puntland. In Mogadishu, the Transitional National Government and in the south, an array of warlords control various bits. Baidoa, just north of Mogadishu and by no means an easy drive from here is where there is a lot of involvement from Somalia's rival, Ethiopia and where also U.S. officials have been visiting and talking to different factions there and those factions are vying to become America's proxies in this country. It's also where we find CNN's Jeff Koinange.


KOINANGE (voice-over): If the U.S. is looking for friends in Somalia, they may want to begin here in Baidoa, the bedrock of opposition to the central government in Mogadishu, and a place where fugitive terrorist Osama bin Laden isn't welcome.

They may want to talk to these men, seasoned veterans of conflicts dating as far back as the early 60's, now willing to join the Americans in the fight against al Qaeda elements.

"Somalia is like a perfect haven for terrorists," he says. "There's no central government to speak of, and we've been at war for more than 10 years. And we have all kinds of bandits running around the countryside at free will."

For the region's many war-weary residents, the prospects of seeing U.S. forces is exciting.

"We happily welcome all Americans here," he says. "We've been fighting a civil war for too long, and now is the time to stop and help build our country."

"It wasn't us who kicked out the Americans the last time," this man says. "It was the people of Mogadishu."

Everyone here, it seems, carries a gun of some sort, and if one requires added security on the road, these pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft machine guns are the vehicles of choice. While these troops may look like a rag-tag army, these men say they are ready and willing to march all the way to Mogadishu, if necessary, and help root out any remnants of al Qaeda.

Why Mogadishu? That's where they claim al Qaeda elements are. Some of them even a part of the fledgling administration, which goes by the name of TNG, the Transitional National Government.

ADBALLAHI SHEIKH ISMAIL, SOMALI COUNCIL: Are they part of the al Qaeda network themselves? And they are -- are they the creation of this international terrorist network? Do they have some association, or are they the political instrumental of al Qaeda itself? Well, that is something, which has still to be discovered, but today there are no secrets, I think in this world. Everybody knows the links between the TNG and al Qaeda.

KOINANGE: The Somalia government denies that charge and insists it's an opposition maneuver to lure the Americans back into Somalia. Even the region's governor is quick to say an added American presence in Somalia could finally bring about an ever-elusive peace.

"We already have a commitment from the Americans," he says. "They came here. We had discussions, and we're moving ahead with our plans to liberate Somalia and get rid of all terrorists once and for all."

(on camera): If Somalia does become a target in this next phase of the U.S. war against terror and it's still just an "if," the entire geography of the country is set to change. After a decade of mostly civil war ending in a weak central government, a new conflict could have upset old alliances and create new ones, all jostling to gain a hold in what's likely to be a power vacuum.

Jeff Koinange, CNN, Baidoa, Somalia.


AMANPOUR: And Jeff is now joining us from Baidoa by videophone.

Jeff, the U.S. sent officials there is in the last several weeks. What are the people there telling you that they were told by the American officials? Are they looked on as new proxies there?

KOINANGE: Well, Christiane, they're jockeying for position and they are vying for the attention of the U.S. They're telling us -- we had an interview with General Mohammed Morgan who is the defense secretary of the SRRC. He told us, "The U.S. doesn't need to come and bomb Somalia. There's not much to bomb over here. We can do the job for them. We know where the al Qaeda networks are. We know where they're hiding. We can flush them out for the U.S. We can do that work for them. We just need a commitment from them." They're ready to do it and they're really jockeying for position, trying to impress, trying to get something out of the U.S. In other words, what they're saying is you scratch our backs, and we'll scratch ours.

AMANPOUR: There have been a lot of allegations flung, as the government or the partial government here in Mogadishu that there are connections with Islamic militantism and terrorism, but they, of course, deny it, as you say. Has there been any proof or evidence that you've been able to turn up in Baidoa area that there are any al Qaeda links?

KOINANGE: None so far, but everyone here is blaming the Mogadishu government. Everyone blames the TNG. They say they're supporting al Qaeda. The al Qaeda are supporting TNG. They've funded them. They've given them all kinds of support. They're saying to the SRRC and the RRA, "We have nothing to do with al Qaeda. We can show you where al Qaeda is." But it's all talk right now and you have you to take it with a grain of salt because you can't take it for sure that they're telling the truth all the time. What they want to do is to try to impress the U.S., try to get them on their side so they could achieve their motive.

AMANPOUR: Jeff Koinange from Baidoa, thank you very much indeed for joining us. But the U.S. does, of course, believe that there is at the very least a financial connection between al Qaeda and Somalia. That story and an interview with the current prime minister when we return.


AMANPOUR: These serene seaside images belie the fact that both Mogadishu's main seaport and airports have been closed for years because of disputes between rival warlords. One is now building another airport and already, they have built an alternative seaport in Mogadishu. This is now the only main import point for food, construction and other materials coming into this country.

Now, for years, one of Somalia's biggest and most successful employers has been a bank called Al-Barakaat. This has also been the bank where many, many in the Somalia cithara, about one to two million people abroad have sent remittances back to people and relatives here, often meaning the difference between life and death. That has all now changed because those funds have been frozen since November when the United States accused Al-Barakaat of being involved in financing terrorism. And the State Department says Al-Barakaat is unlikely to open any time soon. A group of Somali investors is looking to try to set up a rival bank to fill the void.

But as CNN's Catherine Bond reports, nothing can hide the bitterness from the people here who have lost their life savings.


CATHERINE BOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Somalia's biggest bank, its largest phone network, it's only Internet company and post office all belonging to this group of companies, Al-Barakaat. The name meaning "blessings" in Arabic. But Al-Barakaat has been closed for business since the U.S. Treasury froze its assets last November, accusing it of helping finance al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, an accusation it denies.

KHLAIF FARAH, AL-BARAKAAT SPOKESMAN: We have nothing to do with these people. It's basically -- is a target. After Afghanistan, we have to get to Somalia. WE have to get Sudan. We have to get Yemen. So we are number two. They have to do something. They have to have an excuse to come to here.

BOND: This is how Al-Barakaat used to work as a remittance bank. Somalis collecting money wired to them from relatives abroad in a system known as the Hawala, an unregulated system that the U.S. now believes bin Laden may have used to move money as a continuant to move money undetected about the globe to al Qaeda operatives, but a lifeline, too for tens and thousand of Somali families.

"Our whole life depends on Al-Barakaat," says Mohammed, whose family relied on a cousin in California for 300 to $300 a month to supplement what income he gets from his small shop.

There are other Somali remittance companies Mohammed could use, but in Somalia's collapsed economy, there are no other jobs for its former employees. Some of the hundreds of stock that it's had to layoff say they're reduced to begging to stop their children going hungry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes I go into town, and I ask people like you, my children has no breakfast, they have no lunch, please give me something, like that.

BOND: So will Al-Barakaat be cleared or charged? It's says it's had problems finding a lawyer in Washington to handle its case. It also says it's cooperating with U.S. investigations and has sent 15 years worth of computer records to its headquarters in Dubai. Though Al-Barakaat wonders why these investigations didn't happen before the U.S. Treasury put the company out of business.

(on-camera): Al-Barakaat says U.S. Treasury and State Department officials have just spent four or five days in Dubai going through its accounts, transfers and transactions. They're going back with their findings to Washington where another decision on Al-Barakaat will be made.

Catherine Bond, CNN, Mogadishu.


AMANPOUR: Well, joining us now to discuss these allegations and indeed its control over Somalia is Hassan Abshir, the prime minister of the new Transitional National Government here.

Mr. Abshir, thank you very much for joining us. First of all, a whole lot of allegations are flying your way. There's the Transitional National Government includes members who are linked to Islamic militants and terrorists, that Al-Barakaat, the biggest employer here was involved in funding terrorism. Give me your best estimate of what is the fact here.

HASSAN ABSHIR FARAH, PRIME MINISTER, TRANSITIONAL NATIONAL GOVERNMENT: I cannot correspond to the truth that al Qaeda has bases in Somalia. There are no one linked to terrorists with our government. We know each other that well. If they are telling that, they can us the names, who is the member in our government. This is just baseless information. This is what their warlords, they are obligating...

AMANPOUR: So you're saying...

FARAH: ... to our government.

AMANPOUR: You're saying it's propaganda against your government. What has the United States said to your government in terms of its contacts recently?

FARAH: Their government of America, they send here special envoy from Nairobi embassy. We sit and talk together and our discussion was positive. And after that, they stated that Somalia has no terrorist bases, no training camps for al-Ittihad. It had used it to be Somalia in the early 1980s like other factions, other clans. There was army, but now, they disbanded. They went to back their clan. They are business. They have teachers in their schools. There are -- they have no -- any military group.

AMANPOUR: Is Mogadishu concerned, is Somalia worried, that there will U.S. bombing here?

FARAH: I think America, they not strike Mogadishu because we're -- because we are not a necessity. We invited and we are ready to cooperate with them, so why they need to struggle to bomb Mogadishu? If they do that, it is unfair and it's not really worth.

AMANPOUR: Can you explain to Americans and others around the world what has changed since 1993 when we heard nothing but anti- American slogans, when 18 American soldiers were killed in a Mogadishu battle and now people like yourself and others are calling for America to come back here?

FARAH: Yes, the Somalia today is not -- it's a different Somalia than 1991, '92 and '93. Today, our people, they are picked up. They are trying to do their best. Civil war, we had lasted 10 years. The 10 years difficulty we had, ended up killing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Arabians, destruction, what they did, the warlords ended for Somalia. So we welcome Americans. We want to collaborate with them and see -- and to come here and see.

AMANPOUR: Now, you talk about factions and warlords, but of course, your so-called government only controls part of Mogadishu. How can you establish a central authority or a proper lawful state with the limited power that you have?

FARAH: No, the last ten years that we had more than 15 conferences...


FARAH: ... and they are top 80's. There was only -- who participated in that conferences. The last one in Jabuti (ph), it was secretarial representation, all clans, all originists, they come there. We, as the transitional government, we have the support of our people in the different regions.

So it's not true that TNG has only -- has presence in part of Mogadishu. That's not true anywhere from central aborigenist Kelciyo (ph) to south part of Cashmio (ph). We are -- we have the support of the people because they're elderly, they're women, they're religious people, they're intellectuals. All -- they participated in the last conference and they elected the parliamentary, the transitional charter and -- which elected the president and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

AMANPOUR: So you're saying you're trying to reconcile Somalia factions?

FARAH: Yes, we would like to cooperate with them. Our main objective is to bring Somalia together.


FARAH: Because it is an anarchy.

AMANPOUR: And that's certainly what what -- and that's certainly what a lot of people tell us. And we'll be watching very closely.

Enough of war and enough of being wounded, 1,500 gunshot wounds and 200 victims any given day at Somalia's main hospital. The gun culture when we return.


AMANPOUR: This is a country in which the price of weapons measures many things here. It forms a kind of gold standard. An indication of how sure Somalis are that U.S. troops are coming, the gun market has been flooded and the price of a decent AK-147 has dropped to about $150. But because people feel that the U.S. troops, if they came, would disarm their heavy weapons, the most expensive item now on the market is a pistol, a good one selling for between 500 and $1,000.

And that's our report tonight. We will be back again, same time tomorrow night as we continue our focus on Somalia. But now, we want to leave you with more of those pictures that you very rarely see from Somalia, pictures of a wedding, pictures of people dancing, pictures that show that despite this country's anguish, there is still an indomitable spirit, pictures that show that despite the ugliness of war, Somalis know how to make music, beauty and how to have fun.




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