Ethiopia Holding 41 Suspects Who Fought With Somali Islamists, Officials Confirm

Ethiopia Holding 41 Suspects Who Fought With Somali Islamists, Officials Confirm
April 11th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Ethiopia Holding 41 Suspects Who Fought With Somali Islamists, Officials Confirm

Ethiopia Holding 41 Suspects Who Fought With Somali Islamists, Officials Confirm
New York Times
April 11, 2007
Pg. 12
By Jeffrey Gettleman and Mark Mazzetti
NAIROBI, Kenya, April 10 — Ethiopian officials acknowledged Tuesday for the first time that they had detained 41 terrorism suspects from 17 countries who had been fighting for Somalia’s Islamist movement.
“Suspected international terrorists have been and are still being captured by the joint forces of the transitional federal government of Somalia and Ethiopia,” said a statement from the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry.
For weeks now, human rights groups have been urging Ethiopia, which has a nettlesome human rights record, to shed some light on the detainees. Many were captured in Kenya, sent to Somalia and then secretly taken to prisons in Ethiopia.
The acknowledgment by Ethiopia of its role in detaining terrorism suspects prompted officials in Washington to speak more candidly about American interrogations of the captives. Those officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly, said Tuesday that American intelligence agents had questioned several of the detainees in Ethiopian jails over the past several months.
But they denied that the United States had played any part in transferring or detaining the prisoners, and denied that the prisoners were part of a covert rendition program in which suspects are captured by American forces and flown to another country to be interrogated. In the past, many rendition suspects have been taken to countries where torture is routine.
It was unclear whether the Ethiopians acted unilaterally in detaining the suspects, or with encouragement from American officials. The Washington officials said that the Ethiopian military had been anxious to get Islamic fighters off the battlefield in Somalia because they had successfully attacked Ethiopian troops, and that the government in Addis Ababa had rarely hesitated in the past to begin operations in the Horn of Africa without American approval.
Several Ethiopian opposition groups had been using Somalia as a base for attacks on Ethiopia, and another American official said it was suspects from those outfits that most interested Ethiopian intelligence agents. Also, Eritrea, Ethiopia’s neighbor and bitter enemy, is widely suspected by Ethiopian intelligence agents of supporting Islamists in Somalia.
Although Ethiopia has a long and storied Christian history, its population today is about half Muslim. Some Ethiopians worry that the conditions are ripe for a radical Islamist movement in their own country.
The United States and Ethiopia have grown closer over the past year as their interests in combating Islamic extremism in the region have aligned.
Last December, Ethiopian forces, with clandestine American help, overthrew an Islamist movement that briefly ruled Somalia. Thousands of Ethiopian soldiers remain in that country and many Somalis say that if they leave, Somalia’s weak transitional government will collapse.
At the time of the invasion, the United States provided the Ethiopians with detailed intelligence about the fighting positions of Islamic fighters. The Pentagon has also used a secret airstrip in Ethiopia for Special Operations raids into Somalia.
The significance of the detainees in Ethiopian custody was unclear. American officials have said that none of the top operatives in Al Qaeda who have been active in the Horn of Africa have been killed or captured since the Ethiopian invasion began in December.
Human rights groups have accused the Ethiopian government of running a secret detention program and breaking international law. They have also accused Ethiopia of committing war crimes during recent fighting in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. They cited the bombing of several neighborhoods by Ethiopian forces that caused hundreds of civilian deaths. Ethiopian officials have said their troops did not intentionally single out civilians.
As for accusations of illegality, the statement from the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said, “All legal procedures are being followed, and the suspected terrorists have been allowed to appear before the relevant court of law.”
Five suspects have already been freed, the statement said, and 29 others have been cleared by a military court. It said that the five were from Denmark, Sweden, Tanzania, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. The statement added that foreign investigators had questioned some of the suspects but it did not specify the nationalities of the investigators.
American Special Operations forces have been working closely with Ethiopian forces for several months to hunt terrorism suspects believed to have played a role in attacks during the past decade, including the bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
American intelligence agencies believe that Qaeda operatives responsible for those and other large-scale attacks have been hiding in Somalia, which has been mired in anarchy since the central government imploded in 1991.
Early this year, F.B.I. agents in Kenya questioned several militia fighters who escaped over Somalia’s southern border into Kenya, including two Americans, Amir Mohamed Meshal and Daniel Joseph Maldonado. Mr. Meshal was deported to Somalia and wound up in an Ethiopian jail. Mr. Maldonado was later flown to Houston, where he faces terrorism-related charges.
One American intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said that the interviews in Ethiopia had produced “valuable information.” It would have been “irresponsible” for the United States to give up the opportunity to interrogate suspects who could have information about Al Qaeda in the Horn of Africa, the official added.
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, declined to give details about the agency’s activities in the region, but said that the “C.I.A. acts boldly yet legally, alone and with partners, just as our government and people expect us to.”
Jeffrey Gettleman reported from Nairobi, and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.

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