U.S. Not Looking to Form Ties With New Somali Leader Suspected of Terror Links

The State Department said Monday it has no plans to engage a newly emerging Somali political chieftain, citing his suspected links to international terror.

Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States is not about to sacrifice the principle of avoiding contact with terrorists "just to try to facilitate some immediate political desires. That's not the way we work."

Somali militia leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys was appointed leader of the militia Saturday to replace a more moderate cleric who had agreed to negotiate with an interim government that is supported by the United Nations and other foreign interests.

McCormack said the administration is not ready to concede that Aweys is ready to convert Somalia into a terrorist state.

At issue is the political direction of the Islamic militia, sometimes called the Union of Islamic Courts. McCormack indicated that he was encouraged by signs of political diversity in the group.

"We don't have a full picture of all of those relationships and we don't have a full picture of exactly what is the relative balance of power or the relative influence of various individuals or groups within the UIC," he said.

He said the United States is waiting to see whether the UIC shows a commitment to fight terrorism, to make efforts to meet the humanitarian needs of the Somali people and to help build up the interim government, which has almost no authority.

"If they want to have partners in the international community, if they want to work with the U.S., they want to work with the other members of the international community, we'll see if they meet those standards," McCormack said.

Aweys told The Associated Press on Monday that he is interested in establishing a government based on Islam.

Aweys and a Somali group he founded called al-Itihaad al-Islaami are on the U.S. list of people and organizations associated with terrorism for alleged links to Al Qaeda kingpin Usama bin Laden while the terror leader lived in Sudan in the 1990s.