No Way to Stop
A "technical" -- a pickup truck typical of Somalia, with a machine gun mounted on the truck bed -- is visible in the rear-view mirror, also bouncing up and down on the rough road. It's manned by government fighters -- Ainashe's bodyguards. The driver of the technical can barely manage to keep up, driving as close to the rear bumper of the SUV as possible. Nevertheless, Ainashe cannot afford to slow down -- it would only make him a target for the Islamists' machine guns. Anyone who stops on this road dies.
The SUV circles "Kilometer 4," the notorious, often contested central roundabout where so many people have died. Then it passes the ruins of the parliament building, where the Islamists shoot at anything that moves. Finally, Ainashe reaches a driveway at the base of a hill.
Machine gun nests between battered walls protect the entrance. Ainashe maneuvers the SUV through a narrow alleyway, through checkpoints, around tank barricades, passing guards along the way. When he finally reaches the gate to the fortress at the top of the hill, he hears the guns of the president's forces, which kill people every day. Their task is to protect the five buildings inside the wall. Their enemies are less than a kilometer away, and they can be seen running and shooting.
"Welcome to Villa Somalia," says Ainashe.
The Perfect Hell
The fortress dates from the days of Italian colonial rule. Ainashe is one of the most trusted associates of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the master of Villa Somalia and the world's most unlikely head of state. More than a year ago, his old enemies made him the country's president, and now his old friends are dispatching fighters to the vicinity of his fortress every day in an effort to kill him.
He is an Islamist and a Sharia scholar, but now he is fighting for his life, alongside Somalis from the West like Ainashe. His goal is to unite a country that he can only see through the observation slit of a tank. It wasn't very long ago that American intelligence agents tried to kill him in an air strike. But now Washington deploys reconnaissance drones from its warships every night, and sometimes it sends him tons of ammunition to keep him alive. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that Sheikh Sharif is the "greatest hope" for Somalia, and for the "global community."
Almost 20 years of civil war have created the perfect hell. No country has failed more thoroughly than Somalia, so much so that it has become a warning sign for countries like Afghanistan, Yemen and Sudan. Worst of all, this hell has no gates that can be barricaded shut from the outside. Somali pirates attack Western ships while Somalia's Islamists are cooperating with al-Qaida and training terrorists. And if their troops capture Villa Somalia and Sheikh Sharif dies, global terror will have gained yet another safe haven.
A Tool of Allah
Sheikh Sharif looks like a boy in his best suit who has taken a seat in his father's big wing chair. He is sitting in his peach-yellow study, facing 1980s-style cut-glass tables. Sheikh Sharif has a soft, sensual face and has a pair of metal-rimmed glasses perched on his nose. He is 45, but he looks younger.
Ainashe believes in this man. He says that this president isn't just fighting for himself, because, as a devout Muslim, he sees himself as merely a tool. If Allah had other plans, He would either banish him or kill him.
"We are even more important for the world than for Somalia," he says. "You have to help me -- for your own good." In 1991, rebels overthrew the former occupant of Villa Somalia Mohamed Siad Barre. But then the country's clans began tearing each other apart.