Somali Islamists fear retribution

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Their leaders slipped out of this capital under the cover of darkness. The plum jobs are gone. Their former offices were the first to be looted in a spasm of vandalism last week by angry young men.

Yesterday, Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi renewed his offer of amnesty to midlevel officials and fighters of Somalia's now-defunct Islamic Courts Union who lay down their weapons. He also issued a three-day deadline for everyone in Mogadishu to turn in their guns.


But for the Islamists left behind in Somalia's long-troubled capital, the ordeal is not over. While top Islamic Courts officials escaped south toward Kenya, thousands of their employees, fighters and supporters remain trapped in Mogadishu, struggling to comprehend the new reality.

Once part of the city's new elite, many have gone into hiding, fearing retribution or worried that enemies might finger them as collaborators to Ethiopian troops allied with the 2-year-old transitional government, or the warlord militias reasserting control in the city.


Yesterday, weary Mogadishu residents tried to return to a normal life after a week of turmoil and a three-day Eid al-Adha holiday. Shops and offices reopened. People ventured out on the streets.

Only a handful of soldiers were visible patrolling the congested roads or guarding government buildings. Ethiopian troops seen in public generally drew large crowds of Somali onlookers, who observed the soldiers from afar.

Most of the city has adapted to the fall of the Islamists, resuming activities once discouraged. Cinemas reopened. Children played soccer again on the beach. Vendors of khat, the leafy stimulant, resumed the daily deliveries in the marketplace.

Supporters of the Islamic Courts remained largely in the background. Some still defend the courts and predict resurgence of the once-powerful alliance of Islamist leaders. But others insist they were misled and exploited by an organization that fell victim to infighting and greed.

"It was a black day for Somalia," said one midlevel courts official, referring to Thursday, when Islamist fighters abandoned Mogadishu to advancing troops from Ethiopia and Somalia's transitional government. "I'm still not sure what happened." He was too afraid to have his name or former position revealed.

He said the Islamic Courts began to split in recent weeks into two factions, one that wanted to pursue negotiations with the weak transitional government and another that was pushing for an attack on Baidoa, the temporary seat of the resurgent government. The latter Islamist group won out, only to find their fighters routed by Somali forces and more than 4,000 Ethiopian troops.

Nevertheless, he said he had no inkling Wednesday that the movement he devoted his life to would collapse the next day. Co-workers phoned him that evening with rumors that his bosses had fled. It wasn't until he heard the radio the next morning that he realized the Islamic Courts had disintegrated.

"I was just an employee," he said. "They didn't invite us to go with them."


Now he's scrambling to find another job to support his children and turning to his clan for protection. So far, he hasn't been threatened, but he fears it's only a matter of time.

"Right now, everyone is focused on the presence of Ethiopians," he said. "That's taking the attention off the Islamic Courts."

Afrah Adan Gagale, 27, a former Islamist fighter, said the courts' leadership had been corrupted by power and its sudden success. The courts seized Mogadishu in June after a surprising victory over U.S.-backed warlords, bringing a degree of stability to a country that had been without an effective government since 1991.

"Their ambition was high, but they had no plan," Gagale said.

Edmund Sanders writes for the Los Angeles Times.