"The comments made by Osama bin Laden are like any other statement made by politicians or any other person who is expressing his views on the change of political landscape in Somalia," said Shaikh Sharif Shaikh Ahmed, the former leader of the Islamic courts group.

 

"These are personal comments and we have nothing to say at this point," he told reporters in the capital, Mogadishu.

 

According to an audiotape attributed to bin Laden posted on the internet on Saturday, the second in two days, bin Laden came out against deploying international peacekeepers in Somalia, which has lacked an effective government for 15 years.

 

The speaker warned "countries of the world against responding to America and sending international forces to Somalia," vowing to fight any such troops and "reserving the right" to "punish" these countries on their own soil "and anywhere possible."

 

The Islamists, grouped under the newly-formed Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS), whose forces took the capital from a warlord alliance thought to be backed by the US, has warned the east African Inter-Governmental Authority on Development and African Union from deploying troops to help President Andullahi Yusuf Ahmed exert control.

 

Somalia was plunged into lawlessness in 1991 after the ousting of strongman Mohamed Siad Barre, and the nation of about 10 million was divided into a patchwork of fiefdoms governed by warlords.

 

The SICS, which is led by radical cleric Shaikh Hassan Darir Aweys, is accused by the United States of having ties to al-Qaeda. The Islamists, who stepped into the power vacuum, have prompted fears the country may become "a breeding ground for terrorists."

 

The Islamists insist that they are only interested in restoring peace and order.