By Ibrahim Mohamed and Abdi Guled
The leader of Somalia's Hizbul Islam rebels Sunday justified the suicide bombing of an African Union peacekeeping force's base and urged insurgents to carry out other similar attacks.
Al Shabaab, the main rebel group, which Washington says is al Qaeda's proxy in Somalia, hit the African Union peacekeeping mission's (AMISOM) main base in Mogadishu with twin suicide car bombs Thursday, killing 17 peacekeepers.
"We are calling our brothers in the fight against Muslim enemies to increase suicide bombings, which I believe is an acceptable tactic in Islam when it comes to defending your people and your religion," Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys said.
A former ally of the U.N.-backed President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said all weapons were fair game in the fight against Western powers. "People should kill with everything, even knives," he said.
In a sign of the insurgents' growing influence in the chaotic capital, the rebels issued orders to schools on Saturday, against the use of textbooks from U.N. agencies and other donors, deemed to be un-Islamic.
"Some U.N. agencies like UNESCO are supplying Somali schools with text books to try to teach our children un-Islamic subjects," al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told Koranic students gathered at Mogadishu's Nasrudin mosque.
Fighting has killed more than 18,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.5 million from their homes.
Al Shabaab, together with Hizbul Islam, has been battling government troops and the African Union (AU) peacekeepers to impose its own strict version of Islamic law throughout Somalia.
Al Shabaab's stern religious views are rejected by many Somalis, who are traditionally moderate Muslims. But some residents do credit the gunmen with restoring relative stability and a measure of law and order to areas under their control.
In July, the group barred three U.N. agencies from operating on its territory, saying the U.N. Development Program, U.N. Department of Safety and Security and U.N. Political Office for Somalia were working against the creation of an Islamic state.
REGIONAL BODY SLAMS ERITREA
Thursday's attack on the heavily guarded heart of the AMISOM peacekeeping mission, next to Mogadishu's main airport, was the worst yet on the force of 5,000 troops from Burundi and Uganda. Burundi was burying its 12 dead Sunday.
The Somali government warned Friday the insurgents had six more stolen U.N. vehicles primed as suicide car bombs.
The United Nations is investigating the use of its cars, which were thought to have been seized in rebel raids on U.N. compounds in central Somalia in May and July.
A senior official at the east African regional body IGAD said it had proof that Eritrea, which Washington accuses of funding and arming the Somali rebels, was fanning the chaos.
"We have conclusive evidence that Eritrea and al Qaeda are supporting, abetting and financing the terrorists," Kiprute Arap Kirwa, IGAD's peace and reconciliation facilitator for Somalia, told reporters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
Kirwa did not elaborate, but called on the international community to take immediate and effective action.
Saturday, Somalia's President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said his administration had given Washington permission to hunt down Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan -- a 28-year-old Kenyan wanted for the 2002 truck bombing of an Israeli-owned beach hotel in Kenya that killed 15 people -- because it could not catch him.