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Islamist offensive ruins the West's plan for Somalia

Militant Islamists have the moderate government surrounded in Mogadishu. If they took over, it would be a devastating blow to US counter-terrorism and anti-piracy efforts in East Africa.

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A major offensive by Islamic rebels has brought Somalia's internationally backed government close to collapse and renewed the possibility that a militant Islamist regime that allegedly has ties to Al Qaeda could seize control of the East African nation.

That would be a devastating blow to US counter-terrorism and anti-piracy efforts in East Africa, where Al Qaeda operatives bombed the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. American intelligence officials accuse the rebels' spiritual leader, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, of helping to shelter suspects in those attacks, and since 2007 US forces have launched airstrikes at terrorist targets in Somalia.

After a week of heavy mortar and rocket attacks that have left at least 135 people dead and sent tens of thousands fleeing, the insurgents have moved to within a half-mile of the hilltop presidential palace in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, which is being guarded by African Union peacekeepers with tanks and armored vehicles.

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