updated 9/23/2005 1:24:12 PM ET 2005-09-23T17:24:12

Police in breakaway Somaliland battled al-Qaida suspects armed with assault rifles and hand grenades, capturing five, officials said Friday.

Three police officers and one of the unnamed terror suspects were wounded in the clashes, Ilmi said.

Four of the suspects were captured during an overnight raid on four houses in Somaliland's capital, Hargeisa. The fifth was detained Friday 19 miles west of the city, police chief Mohamed Ige Ilmi told The Associated Press.

Ilmi said the suspects received terrorist training in Afghanistan and were found in possession of assault rifles, anti-tank mines and a large cache of ammunition.

Ilmi said police had been watching the suspects as they moved into the region from southern Somalia and the Somali capital of Mogadishu for some time before the intelligence department called for a raid.

They are accused of planning to kill senior government officials and some prominent foreigners in an effort to destabilize Somaliland shortly before or during parliamentary polls scheduled in the region next week, Interior Minister Ismail Adan Osman said on Somaliland's official Web site.

In July, a Brussels-based group that tracks conflicts around the world said a new and ruthless cell with links to al-Qaida has grabbed a foothold in Somalia's capital.

The former British colony of Somaliland and the Italian colony of Somalia merged in 1960 to form the independent republic of Somalia.

Somaliland set up its own administration after breaking away from the rest of Somalia when the Horn of Africa nation descended into anarchy as clan-based fighting swept the center and south of Somalia following the 1991 ouster of President Mohammed Siad Barre.

Somaliland, however, remained relatively peaceful, aided by the overwhelming dominance of a ruling clan and economic infrastructure left behind by British, Russian, and American military aid programs.

The region has its own security and police forces, justice system and currency _ but has not succeeded in gaining international recognition.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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