Al Qaeda Deputy Eggs On Somali Militants

This photo of al Qaeda deputy commander Ayman al-Zawahri, provided by IntelCenter, accompanied an audio statement attributed to al-Zawahri that was released on the Web Friday, Jan. 5, 2007. IntelCenter/Web

Al Qaeda's deputy leader urged Islamic militants hiding out in Somalia to ambush and raid Ethiopian forces with land mines and suicide attacks until they can take over the country, according to an Internet audiotape posted Friday.

"I speak to you today as the crusader Ethiopian invasion forces violate the soil of the beloved Muslim Somalia," al Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahri said in the audiotape.

The Egyptain-born al-Zawahri also urged Islamist militia to remain fighting until Ethiopian forces are defeated.

However, the encouragement from al Qaeda will not likely help the militants clinging to existence on the southern tip of Somalia, as government and Ethiopian forces prepared to move in on them Friday.

The joint forces were prepared to launch a major assault on the last stronghold of the Islamic militiamen.

U.S. Navy warships were patrolling off the Somali coast to prevent the fighters from escaping by sea.

The Somali and Ethiopian force captured a southern town near the Kenyan border Thursday evening. Col. Barre "Hirale" Aden Shire, the Somali defense minister, said Islamic militiamen were dug in with their backs to the sea at Ras Kamboni at the southernmost tip of Somalia.

"Today we will launch a massive assault on the Islamic courts militias. We will use infantry troops and fighter jets," said Shire, who left for the battle zone on Friday. "They have dug huge trenches around Ras Kamboni but have only two options: to drown in the sea or to fight and die."

Al-Zawahri said on the audio tape: "I call upon the Muslim nation in Somalia to remain in the new battlefield that is one of the crusader battlefields that are being launched by America and its allies and the United Nations against Islam and Muslims,".

"Launch ambushes, land mines, raids and suicidal combats until you consume them as the lions and eat their prey," al-Zawahri added.

The more than five-minute audiotape could not immediately be verified but was aired on a Web site frequently used by militants and carried the logo of al Qaeda's media production wing, al-Sahab.

It was the second time the al Qaeda No. 2 had lent his group's moral support to the holdout militiamen of Somalia's Council of Islamic Courts, who were routed by government and Ethiopian troops after nearly taking over the whole country.

His first message, the content of which was similar, came in an audio tape released on December 19.

Meanwhile, Somalia's president told diplomats from the around the world Friday that his country has a rare opportunity to reverse 15 years of anarchy, but needs international help to do it.

Abdullahi Yusuf was addressing a meeting where officials from the United States, Europe, Africa and the Middle East are discussing how to help Yusuf's government following the defeat of the Islamic movement that tried to destroy it.

"I feel that there is now a rare opportunity and a genuine breakthrough in the political situation in Somalia," Yusuf said at the meeting in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. "We need you to actualize financial, material and technical assistance."
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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.