Somali Islamic Fighters: We'll Heed Al Qaeda's Call; Protests Erupt in Mogodishu

Somalia's interim government on Saturday indefinitely postponed plans to forcibly disarm Mogadishu as hundreds of people burned tires, looted vehicles and said they wouldn't give up their guns. Two people were reported killed and at 17 people wounded.

The protest came a day after Al Qaeda's deputy leader called on Muslim militants to attack Ethiopian troops, who helped government forces chase Somalia's Islamic militia from the capital last week. Some Islamic fighters hiding in Mogadishu said they would heed the call.

About 400 protesters gathered at Tribunka Square in a southern neighborhood, shouting "Down, down with Ethiopia" and demanding an end to the disarmament plan.

"We don't want disarmament only in Mogadishu. We want all the people (of Somalia) and all the clans to be disarmed simultaneously," said Dahil Abukar, one of the protesters.

Gunfire broke out during the demonstration, but it was not immediately clear what set off the violence.

A nurse at Medina Hospital said a government soldier was killed when his own hand grenade exploded accidentally. Dr. Dahir Mohamud at the same hospital said a 13-year-old boy was killed by bullets and the hospital was treating 17 other people wounded by gunshots.

Abdirahman Dinari, spokesman for the 2-year-old, U.N.-backed transitional government, told The Associated Press that plans to forcibly disarm the city this week had been delayed.

"The prime minister has decided to postpone disarming people by force until an unspecified time," Dinari said. He did not say why Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi reversed his stand.

The ease with which Somalis can get weapons is a major problem in this chaotic African nation, which has not had an effective government since clan-based warlords toppled a military dictatorship in 1991 and plunged the country into anarchy.

The Council of Islamic Courts militia had brought a semblance of stability to Mogadishu after seizing control six months ago, but it terrified residents with a version of Koranic rule that included public executions and floggings of criminals.

Government troops, backed by the Ethiopian military, routed the Islamic militia from much of southern Somalia last week. Many of the militiamen are now besieged at the southernmost tip of Somalia with their backs to the sea, but the government estimates 3,500 fighters are hiding out in Mogadishu.

Some of the fighters in hiding told The Associated Press on Thursday that they would heed a call from Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden's deputy, for guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings against the troops from Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population.

"I am committed to die for the sake of my religion and the Al Qaeda deputy's speech only encourages me to go ahead with my holy war," 18-year-old Sahal Abdi in Mogadishu said in a phone interview.

Leaders of the Islamic movement previously vowed to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war.

Ethiopian soldiers, tanks and warplanes intervened Dec. 24 in support of the interim Somali government, which at the time controlled only the western town of Baidoa. But Ethiopia's government wants to pull out in a few weeks, saying it cannot afford to keep its troops in Somalia.

The government is trying to train and expand its own military and police while an international diplomatic effort seeks to put a foreign peacekeeping force in place.

A meeting of U.S., European Union, African and Arab diplomats ended in Kenya on Friday with a U.S. pledge to provide $40 million to Somalia in political, humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance, and a plan to ask more African nations to send troops to help stabilize the country. Uganda has pledged at least 1,000 peacekeepers.

The EU said it also would help pay for a peacekeeping force envisioned at 8,000 soldiers.

On Friday, U.S. warships patrolled offshore to prevent militiamen from escaping by sea.

The U.S. 5th Fleet said vessels were being boarded to look for militants, including three Al Qaeda suspects wanted for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. The Islamic council has denied U.S. allegations that the three were leaders in the Somali movement.