MOGADISHU, Somalia – An insurgent group linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq urged Muslims to support the Islamists in Somalia who were abandoning the capital on Thursday and fleeing government forces, according to an Internet statement.
The so-called Islamic State of Iraq — a coalition of Sunni insurgent groups, chief among them Al Qaeda in Iraq — said all Muslims should "stand by the side of their brothers in Somalia and to support them financially, with weapons and men and with prayers."
The statement could not immediately be verified, but it was posted on a Web site commonly used by insurgent groups.
The Somali Islamic movement fled the capital, Mogadishu, on Thursday, giving clan militiamen the chance to pour into the streets as government forces, backed by Ethiopia, approached the city.
The movement first took Mogadishu six months ago and then advanced across most of southern Somalia, often without fighting before Ethiopian troops went on the attack in support of the government last week.
The Islamic State of Iraq's statement, which was dated Wednesday, said the ongoing fighting in Somalia was one of the "great battles between the soldiers of the cross and the followers of the merciful (God) on Somalian Muslim soil."
"The Muslims bloods are being shed, homes and villages being demolished, and thousands of women, children and elders are forced to be homeless for no reason but because they are Muslims," the statement said.
Somalia has not had an effective government since warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, pushing the country into anarchy. The country was largely under the control of warlords until this past summer, when the Islamic militia movement pushed them aside.
For months, foreign Islamic radicals — including Pakistanis, Arabs and Chechens — have been trickling into Somalia to fight on behalf of the Islamic movement. According to a U.N. report in October, Eritrea — Ethiopia's neighbor and longtime adversary — has dispatched 2,000 soldiers to Somalia to fight against the Ethiopian-backed central government.
The self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq was established by Al Qaeda in Iraq and several other Iraqi Sunni Arab insurgent groups earlier this year. The Iraqi government has dismissed its legitimacy.