A senior official in the Somali government's new Ministry of the Interior told ABC News government forces had recovered "dozens of foreign passports," including several American passports, on the bodies of al Qaeda fighters killed in combat between forces affiliated with the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and Ethiopian forces in Somalia.
According to the same source, most of the foreign passports were Sudanese, Pakistani and Yemeni, but several American, British and Australian passports were also recovered.
The senior Somali government official told ABC News that the American passports found on the dead bodies near Baidoa, in Somalia, would be turned over to the American government.
THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS
Yesterday al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Ayman al Zawahri, issued an audiotape statement urging Muslims to join the fight for "jihad" in Somalia.
The UIC, which took power in Somalia's capital of Mogadishu in June 2006, are believed to be linked to al Qaeda networks in Pakistan, the Sudan and Yemen.
Last summer, a senior Pakistani intelligence official told ABC News that his government had collected information on the movement of dozens of al Qaeda militants from Pakistan to Somalia, a migration Pakistani officials believe is part of an elaborate al Qaeda operation not only to provide military and financial resources to the UIC but also to establish bases and training facilities in Somalia.
Last October, Yemeni authorities arrested eight foreigners, including three Australians, a British national, a German and a Dane, for running an al Qaeda-sponsored weapons and human smuggling network to Somalia.
Alexis Debat is an ABC News consultant.