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Somalia's leading export: its civil war Add to ...

A young security guard named Hassan sits under a palm tree outside a Nairobi school, watching for Somali radicals who might want to lure away the children.

In another quarter of the Kenyan capital, a former Somali prime minister is conferring with his supporters in a luxury hotel. He is guarded by nine armed men alert for assassination attempts.

In a third neighbourhood, a moderate Islamic leader who fled Mogadishu last year is raising money from Somali exiles for media to counteract extremist propaganda - and to pay for his own militia.

Somalia's vicious 18-year civil war is spilling out into Kenya and beyond, spiralling into a global struggle that enmeshes the Somali diaspora from Africa to Europe to Canada. It is fought with guns and dollars, preachers and teachers, radio and TV, refugees and exiles; it's waged in schools, mosques, slums and skyscrapers.

Back in Somalia, the conflict is itself becoming a proxy war: Al-Qaeda radicals, including many from Pakistan, have imported the ideology of suicide bombings to the once-moderate nation. The United States, meanwhile, is shipping weapons to the official Somali government; this week, the Pentagon flew in special-forces helicopters to kill a Kenyan-born terrorism suspect.

Two regional rivals, Ethiopia and Eritrea, are also deeply embroiled, with Eritrea backing the extremists and Ethiopia twice sending in troops to bolster the government.

Despite this support, and more from thousands of African Union peacekeepers, the government is steadily losing ground to the extremists, who have seized many districts of Mogadishu over the past year. Nearly 300,000 refugees have fled to the badly overcrowded camps on the Kenya-Somalia border. Hundreds of thousands of others have sought shelter in Nairobi - only to find the battle has followed them to their supposed haven.

It's part of a global struggle between conflicting interpretations of Islam. Moderate factions, including Sufis, are clashing with a radical brand of Islam allied with al-Qaeda and funded by wealthy businessmen from Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

And one of the key battlegrounds is the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh, known as Little Mogadishu. The impoverished, overcrowded slum is home to about 400,000 people and the dusty streets are often flooded by burst sewer pipes. Many Kenyans regard it as a hotbed of weapons, violence, terrorism and smugglers.

Yet it is also the business hub for Somali exiles, with some of the highest rents for shops and offices in Nairobi - some in Kenya say Somali pirates invest their profits there, putting upward pressure on rates throughout the city.

Eastleigh is increasingly infiltrated by the radical militia known as al-Shabab ("the Youth"), which has close links to al-Qaeda. Of the 5,000 to 8,000 Somali refugees who cross to Kenya every month, as much as 10 per cent are al-Shabab members, according to the Kenya-based Institute for Security Studies.

A prominent Somali businessman was killed in Eastleigh this month; last month, Kenyan police raided it searching for al-Shabab recruiters who reportedly worked for groups that posed as charities and humanitarian agencies. Ten young men were arrested for having agreed to become al-Shabab fighters. Terrorists were also reported to have planned a series of bomb attacks for the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Only two of the mosques and schools in Eastleigh have resisted the lure of anti-Western ideology, and those are fighting for survival.

Fathu Rahman primary school was established last year by leaders of Somalia's Sufi Islamic community. It teaches Islam, but also secular subjects such as English, Swahili and mathematics. Unlike the extremists' schools, it allows girls and boys to share classrooms. And that makes the plainclothes security guard a necessity.

"There's a risk of infiltration by al-Shabab-affiliated men who are working every day to put their ideas forward," says Khalif Maalim Hussein, the school's principal. "Their message is crossing directly from Somalia to Kenya. They are targeting young people who are uneducated, who don't know much about Islam, and they convince them that they are the real Islam. They are even targeting teachers. Their nerve is unimaginable."

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