updated 6/16/2006 7:50:44 PM ET 2006-06-16T23:50:44

The United States would talk to groups harboring or helping alleged al-Qaida operatives in chaotic Somalia if doing so would help bring the men to justice, a State Department official said Friday.

“I think we have to talk to all groups, because the intent is to get them turned over,” Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer said. “If there’s some group that is actually giving them shelter, then engaging that group, either directly or through others who have better relationships with them, it has to be a focus.”

Frazer singled out three men she said are believed to be living in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, and accused them of responsibility for deadly bombings on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002.

“These are very dangerous individuals, continuing to plan operations that will kill Americans, as well as the citizens of our friends,” Frazer told reporters. “We’ve got to have them handed over.”

‘The first concern’
President Bush said last week he is concerned that lawless Somalia could become the kind of host for terrorism that Afghanistan was under the Taliban.

“There’s instability in Somalia,” Bush said. “The first concern, of course, is to make sure that Somalia does not become an al-Qaida safe haven.”

The Bush administration has scrambled this month to respond to the collapse of the secular alliance of warlords it viewed as a counter to militias with alleged links to al-Qaida and to the rapid rise of a polyglot group of Islamists.

Somalia has had no functioning government for 15 years and remains a patchwork of fiefdoms with shifting loyalties and power centers.

Previous policy did not work
Recent U.S. policy has tried to counter the potential spread of Islamic terrorism in Somalia by backing a weak interim government that has not gained traction.

Frazer attended a U.S.-organized international strategy session on Somalia on Thursday, lent support to the country’s weak interim government and demanded free access so aid groups can help impoverished Somalis.

Frazer, the department’s top official for Africa, said the United States is still reserving judgment on overtures from the Islamic Courts Union, a coalition she said probably contains both extremists and moderates.

“You certainly can’t make a judgment based on two letters,” Frazer said, referring to requests from group leaders for a dialogue with the United States.

Some leaders of the courts union want to establish Islamic law in Somalia. Others have uncertain motives.

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