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Several Detained Somalis Helped Plan Attack on U.S. Soldiers

By Keith B. Richburg
The Washington Post


American investigators say several of the 42 Somalis in United Nations detention centers here were directly involved in planning and executing the Aug. 8 land-mine attack that killed four U.S. Army soldiers.

Their deaths, believed caused by a remote-control detonated land mine hidden in a ditch, prompted President Clinton to dispatch an Army Ranger unit to Mogadishu, the Somali capital, to hunt down militia leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid, whose arrest had been ordered by the U.N. operation here for suspected involvement in the killing of other U.N. peace keepers.

U.N. officials said interrogations of the Somali detainees revealed that three or four of them planted and triggered the land mine, after lying in wait for an American vehicle to pass. The discovery of the Somalis' alleged involvement in killing Americans in attacks specifically targeted against them may complicate the detainees' release, an issue that apparently is holding up talks between the United Nations and Aidid's militia faction.

U.N. officials said another detainee was identified as having been part of the mob photographed kicking and mutilating the body of one of the 18 Americans killed Oct. 3-4 in a major battle with Aidid's forces.

U.N. officials also said they believe two of the detainees may have been directly involved in the June 5 ambush that killed 24 Pakistani U.N. peace keepers, the incident that triggered the four-month clash between Aidid's militia and U.N. forces and started American-led U.N. troops on their futile manhunt for the Somali leader. The other masterminds behind the ambush are believed to have been killed July 12, when American Cobra helicopters fired TOW missiles into a house in which Aidid's top advisers were holding a mid-morning strategy session, according to U.N. officials.

Aidid's Somali National Alliance (SNA) militia has promised on several recent occasions to attend talks on security matters with U.N. and American military officials.

The faction attended a first meeting but left abruptly, and has since boycotted all subsequent talks. A meeting was scheduled this morning to discuss military and security matters in the capital, but the SNA again failed to show after promising to attend.

SNA representatives gave no reason for not attending the session, but they -- and Aidid in a news conference Sunday -- have cited the detainees and the outstanding U.N. arrest order against the militia leader as the two main obstacles to opening official contacts with the United Nations.

U.S. officials are anxious to begin talks with the SNA to discuss plans to begin deploying thousands of American combat soldiers onto Mogadishu's streets to open major roads and begin some limited patrolling alongside other U.N. troops.