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Europe Critical of US Airstrikes in Somalia

European criticism of US military intervention in Somalia mounted on Wednesday amid reports of fresh American air strikes in the southern part of the country aimed at hunting down al Qaeda suspects.

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The EU fears that the US airstrikes may destabilize Somalia

The US military intervention in Somalia -- the first of its kind since a disastrous humanitarian mission ended in 1994 -- has sparked widespread criticism from the international community.

The European Union, United Nations and former colonial power Italy condemned the attacks which they say could only serve to further destabilize an already weakened and volatile region.

On Monday, Washington confirmed an airstrike on a southern village in Somalia by an AC-130 plane firing cannon.

Somalia Soldat aus Äthopien in Somalia

An Ethiopian soldier stands guard in Mogadishu

That attack -- which according to Somali officials killed many people -- was part of a wider offensive involving Ethiopian plans targeting an al Qaeda cell. US officials confirmed that the attack killed one of three al Qaeda suspects. According to CNN, Somali officials said the airstrike killed the suspected orchestrator of the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa.

On Wednesday, reports trickled in of a fresh US strike close to a coastal village near the Kenyan border where many fugitive Somali Islamists were believed to be hiding after being ousted by Ethiopian troops defending Somalia's interim government.

'Unilateral initiatives'

UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said new UN chief Ban Ki-moon was distressed by Washington's move.

"The secretary-general is concerned about the new dimension this kind of action could introduce to the conflict and the possible escalation of hostilities that may result," Montas said.

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said Rome opposed "unilateral initiatives that could spark new tensions in an area that is already very destabilized."

Norway, a member of the international contact group on Somalia along with Italy, said it was not satisfied with Washington's explanation of its conduct in Somalia and stressed that terrorism should be fought in a court room and not with military hardware.

The European Commission also slammed US moves to hunt down al Qaeda operatives in Somalia.

"Any incident of this kind is not helpful in the long term," a spokesman for the EU Commission told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday. "Only a political solution can bring any serious prospects of peace and stability in Somalia."

Al Qaeda members may have been killed

Washington believes that hardline Islamists in the region in and around Somalia have for years been harboring three al Qaeda members wanted for their roles in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

The US is in particular looking for an al Qaeda operative, Abu Talha al-Sudani, a Sudanese identified in evidence given against Osama bin Laden as an explosives expert. Washington believes he financed and directed the 2002 hotel bombing in Kenya.

However, according to Somali officials, American air raids may have killed the suspected al Qaeda terrorist who planned the 1998 United States embassy bombings in east Africa.

“I have received a report from the American side chronicling the targets and list of damage,” Abdirizak Hassan, the Somali president’s chief of staff, told the Associated Press. “One of the items they were claiming was that Fazul Abdullah Muhammad is dead.”

American officials have said that Mr. Muhammad, 32, planned the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 225 people.

Experts question timing of US strike

Deutscher Soldat in Mombasa

A German peacekeeper in Mombasa in 2002 as part of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom

But, experts are questioning the timing of the US strikes on Somalia considering that last week Washington had the stressed the importance of political negotiations within the Somalia contact group and had also signaled it might provide funds for an African peacekeeping force in the country.

Annette Weber, an expert on Somalia at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs criticized the timing of the US attack "at a time when the Americans should be strategically adopting very different positions."

Weber told Deutsche Welle that the US didn't seem to have a well-thought out concept for bolstering their battle against terrorism in the region, which is called "Enduring Freedom."

"There is no plan to keep the Horn of Africa stable," Weber said, adding that the US had tried to hunt down individuals and clans at the risk of squandering away the search for a solution for the whole country.

"The fragmentation that will take place now, the return to the old warlord system won't really be helpful in reaching the aims of 'Enduring Freedom'."

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