With an assault rifle slung over his shoulder and a glass of sweet tea in his hand, 15-year-old Farah Ismail was all smiles Friday at an outdoor cafe in Mogadishu, one of the most dangerous cities on earth.
A fighter for al-Shabab, a radical Islamic group at the heart of Somalia’s deadly insurgency, Ismail was clearly emboldened. His comrades advanced to within miles of Somalia’s capital in the last few days, seizing vast territory in recent weeks and vowing to use strict Muslim rules to bring their lawlessunder control.
By MOHAMED OLAD HASSAN and ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY, Associated Press Writers
In a Tuesday Nov. 4, 2008 file photo, Somali militia of Al-Shabab are seen during exercises at their military training camp outside Mogadishu. Islamic fighters now control most of southern and central Somalia, with the crucial exceptions of Mogadishu and Baidoa. Islamic fighters declared Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008, that they will use strict Muslim rules to bring their lawless Horn of Africa country back under control. (AP Photo, File)
“I am happy with how things are going here,” Ismail said, squinting under the dazzling sun in this once-beautiful seaside capital, which has crumbled into a scorched, bullet-pocked shantytown during Somalia’s 20 years of anarchy. “I can go freely anywhere I want and I can target my enemy by sight.”
The steady and seemingly uncontested rise of al-Shabab, which America considers a terrorist organization, exceeds the worst-case scenarios laid out in late 2006 when Somalia’s U.N.-backed government rolled into Mogadishu supported by powerful Ethiopian troops and drove out radical Islamists intent on ruling by strict Shariah law.
The past two years have been a bloodbath as the Islamic fighters launched a vicious, Iraq-style insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians and sent an estimated half of‘s 2 million people fleeing from near-daily roadside bombings and remote-controlled explosions. They have seized most of southern Somalia — advancing to within 10 miles of the capital Wednesday — allowing fighters like Ismail to roam the streets unhindered.