DUBAI (Reuters) - A Somali Islamist insurgent leader blasted the president of neighboring Kenya as a “U.S. puppet” in rare footage aired by Al Jazeera on Friday showing him training fighters in a remote region.
“The tension between us and Kenya is caused by the current U.S. puppet regime in Kenya. I advise the Kenyan people to change this regime in the coming elections,” Sheikh Hassan Turki told the network, in remarks dubbed into Arabic.
President Mwai Kibaki, who is seeking re-election in a December presidential election, infuriated the Somali Islamists when his security forces blocked the border and rounded up some fugitive fighters in January after their ouster from Mogadishu.
“If President Kibaki is deposed, we are ready to agree on terms for mutual security and forget (Kenya‘s) blows against us,” said Turki, who has rarely spoken to the media.
The footage, which could not be independently verified, showed insurgents loyal to the Islamic Courts movement shooting at targets labeled “Bush”, “Zenawi”, and “Gedi”.
The latter two names refer to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi.
Meles sent thousands of troops into Somalia in 2006 to help Gedi’s security forces drive out the Islamic Courts, who had ruled Mogadishu and most of south Somalia for six months after defeating warlords.
Fighters fled into hiding and abroad, but some regrouped to launch an insurgency that has been raging all year, with near-daily attacks on Ethiopian and government positions.
Somali opposition figures also named a senior Islamist on Friday as chairman of a “liberation” alliance vowing war on Ethiopian troops.
A conference of hundreds of opposition delegates meeting in Eritrea chose Sheikh Sharif Ahmed -- one of the two highest-ranking leaders of the Islamic Courts movement -- to steer the new opposition grouping.
Washington backs Gedi’s government and, according to regional diplomats, gave its tacit blessing to Ethiopia’s entry into Somalia last year.
In the footage, Turki’s men were also shown shooting rocket-propelled grenades, practicing on mortar launchers and engaging in explosives training at a camp which Al Jazeera said was in a remote forest region in southern Somalia.
Turki said Somalia was “at war with occupiers”.
Reporting by Firouz Sedarat in Dubai and Andrew Cawthorne in Nairobi