MOGADISHU — Somali Islamists have begun recruiting thousands of young fighters to fight a jihad against Ethiopia, officials said Wednesday, amid fears of all-out war across the lawless Horn of Africa nation.
A day after claiming to have captured an Ethiopian military officer in fierce weekend battles with a militia allied to Somalia’s weak government, the Islamists said that at least 3,000 people had enlisted for combat in the holy war.
Many of the new recruits have signed up in the last two days, since the supreme leader of the powerful Islamist movement announced the start of a threatened jihad against Ethiopian troops alleged in Somalia, officials said.
“We have at least 3,000 young fighters who have now registered to fight the enemy of Allah,” a senior official with the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (SICS) official said in Mogadishu.
The newcomers, including women, will join what the Islamists claim are tens of thousands of battle-hardened gunmen who seized Mogadishu in June from warlords and now control most of southern and central Somalia.
“We have trained them to fight and that is religious obligation,” said Sheikh Abdinur Farah, a senior Islamist commander who runs a jihad recruitment center in Qoryoley, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of Mogadishu.
“Ethiopia has made clear its intention: that is a war against us,” he said from the town. “So we are calling an open war against Ethiopia and every young fighter is welcome to join the jihad against the Ethiopian invaders.”
Ethiopia and the Somali government have repeatedly denied eyewitness accounts of Ethiopian soldiers in Somalia, although Addis Ababa has said several times that it has sent trainers and advisors.
But mainly Christian Ethiopia has vowed to protect itself and the Somali government from the jihadists, whom, together with the transitional government, it accuses of links with Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network.
On Monday, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, chief of the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS) and a hardline cleric designated a “terrorist” by the United States, urged Somalis to take up arms against Ethiopian troops.
Several recruits from Qoryoley Wednesday said that they had been inspired to join the jihad by Aweys’ speech in which he vowed that the graves of Ethiopian troops would “be littered everywhere in Somalia.”
“I have been looking for somewhere to devote my passion for my religion and country,” said 23-year-old Abdullahi Sidow Hassan. “Now that the righteous jihad has started, I have found it. Fadumo Isaq Duale, 20, a female student, echoed that
sentiment. “I am ready to die for my religion because it is a religious obligation on every Muslim, be it man or woman,” she said. “We have nothing to lose because Ethiopia is violating our religion and our land.” Soaring tensions between the Islamists and the government and worsening security in south and central Somalia have forced tens of thousands to flee into neighboring Kenya and added to concerns of widespread conflict.