David Cameron has warned of the “real threat” posed by extremism in Somalia on the eve of a crucial conference in the UK.
The risk could escalate unless significant action is taken to stabilise the failed state, according to the Prime Minister.
Representatives from more than 40 governments and multilateral bodies are due to hold talks on Somalia in London today.
The international gathering will attempt to agree an approach to resolving the political turmoil, improving security, tackling terrorism, and providing humanitarian aid. It has been reported that that the UK and other EU nations have even considered launching airstrikes against the al-Shabab militant group, which is linked to al-Qaida.
Foreign Secretary William Hague announced last night that Britain will fund a new £550,000 intelligence centre in the Seychelles to co-ordinate action against Somali pirates. He said it would “allow the international community to target the king-pins of piracy and ensure piracy does not pay”.
He added: “For too long, the international community has focused its efforts on the young desperate men who are sent out to sea, without seeking to hold to account those who finance and enable huge pirate operations.”
Britain is also providing £150,000 through the United Nations to help create a maritime security co-ordination office in a stable part of Somalia to co-ordinate action on the ground against the pirates.
International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said he expected the conference to set up a ‘stability fund’ to create jobs, agree local peace deals and establish police, courts and basic services.
There will also be UK aid packages to help 150,000 Somali refugees in Kenya, and 100,000 in Ethiopia.
“Over the last year I’ve met Somalis in camps in Mogadishu and border areas who have known nothing but war, hunger and extreme poverty,” Mr Mitchell said.
“Britain provided thousands of tonnes of food, water and medicine to help meet people’s basic needs and that help will continue.
“But this conference gives us a chance to do much more by breaking the cycle of instability and agree a practical way forward that will improve things in the longer-term.”
Mr Cameron stressed the importance of restoring order.
“The security threat is real, it is substantial,” he said.
“It is based on the fact that al-Shabab is an organisation that has now explicitly linked itself to al-Qaida, and it encourages violent jihad not just in Somalia but also outside Somalia.
“And there is a very real danger of young British Somalis having their minds poisoned by this organisation.
“So there is a terrorist threat that is current today, and if we are not careful, could get worse.”
The premier went on: “Clearly there are young people who take up arms in Somalia. We need to say to those people, don’t do that, give up that path.
“You are joining an organisation that is now an international terrorist organisation. Instead, let us give this country and its young people the hope of a job and a voice.”
Somali prime minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said he hoped the London conference would deliver a Marshall Plan to rebuild his country.
“Somalia is at a crossroads. It is at a very critical juncture in its history,” he told the BBC Today programme.
“We are moving from an era of warlordism, terrorism, extremism and piracy and we are moving into an era of peace, stability and normalcy. Twenty years of lawlessness, violence and chaos is enough. Somalis are ready to move on.”