After training its veteran fighters and newly-recruited students on jihadi tactics, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in Mogadishu has declared a holy war on Ethiopia. On October 9, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, the ICU leader who is seen as a moderate, emerged in the international press clutching an AK-47 rifle and donning a military jacket in a characteristic appearance often associated with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The declaration of a holy war came after the ICU accused Ethiopian troops of attacking the town of Bur Haqaba on the Mogadishu-Baidoa road.
The purpose of declaring a jihad against Ethiopia—a country that has a 45-50% Muslim population—is to provide religiously-indoctrinated Somalis the motivation to fight Ethiopian troops. The ICU announced on September 19 that they were recruiting and training students for holy war in order to defend Somalia against Ethiopian incursions. It is believed that a sizeable number of jihadis that may be used to fight Ethiopian troops could come from student recruits. If students become the foot soldiers of jihad, it will again raise similarities between the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the ICU in Somalia. There have already been accusations that Arab and Pakistani veterans from the Afghan jihad against the Soviets are in Somalia and are helping to train and indoctrinate segments of the Somali population (Somaliland Times, October 10). These reports, however, have not been proven and the ICU denies them.
The Somali press last month quoted ICU education official Fuad Mohammed Kalaf as saying that the Islamists will teach students military tactics for the purpose of defending Somalia. The students are seen as ideal for this role because they can be easily indoctrinated and are energetic followers. In response to questions regarding this policy, he said, “There is nothing wrong with our plan to train students. There are a lot of countries in the world that carry out such exercises.” Kalaf said that the training camps had been opened in Mogadishu and that the ICU plans on recruiting students when they are on their school vacations (Shabelle Media Network, September 18). The ICU has asserted that recruitment is voluntary, but observers point out that the ICU has framed the conflict with Ethiopia in religious terms, making it difficult for students to resist enlistment.
These developments show that the ICU is working rapidly to increase its ranks and to add a group of radical and passionate fighters who will be useful in any large confrontation with Ethiopia. Reports that there are Ethiopian soldiers in Baidoa protecting the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) have continued to anger the ICU and have increased the possibility of an outbreak in major fighting. In the event of renewed clashes, it is unlikely that Baidoa would easily fall to the ICU. The invincibility of the ICU is starting to come into doubt as resistance to its advancement increases.