23/02/2012 12:16 GMT | Updated 23/02/2012 12:17 GMT

Somalia Prime Minister Calls For 'Targeted' Airstrikes Against Terrorists In His Country

The prime minister of Somalia has said he would welcome "targeted" air strikes against terrorist bases in his country.

But Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said that the "protection of the Somali people was also very important" as international representatives gathered in London for a summit designed to tackle the growing problems of extremism and piracy in the African state.

His comments came during a press conference with David Cameron and UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon on Thursday afternoon.

On Wednesday The Guardian reported today that the UK and other EU nations had considered launching airstrikes against the al Shabab militant group, which is linked to al Qaida.

Downing Street has sought to play down reports that Britain and other EU nations have been looking at the possibility of airstrikes against al Shabaab bases.

"We have been focused on pursuing a different strategy to a military strategy," the Prime Minister's spokesman said.

However the spokesman also acknowledged that Britain had military "assets" in the region, including Royal Navy warships operating with the international anti-piracy task force.

Cameron hailed today's international conference on Somalia as a "turning point" in achieving greater security for the world.

The British prime minister described Somalia as a "complex jigsaw puzzle" and warned there was "no single solution" for restoring stability in the war-torn nation.

But he said today's talks, held in London, were the next stage in a "long journey" that provided a "very real opportunity" for securing change.

International representatives of more than 50 countries and international organisations, including US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, signed up to a series of agreements on tackling piracy and improving security.

Cameron said: "There is a very real opportunity within our grasp. We must now follow through on all of the agreements we have reached today so together we can make this conference a turning point in achieving stability, greater security and greater prosperity for Somalia, for the region and for the world."

Hopes for progress have risen in recent months after troops from the African Union force in the country (Amisom) succeeded in driving the Islamist al Shabaab group from the capital Mogadishu.

They were further bolstered by reports that the al Shabaab stronghold of Baidoa in the south west of the country has fallen to troops from neighbouring Ethiopia and Somali government forces.

The UN Security Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to increase the Amisom presence from 12,000 troops to 17,700 while increasing funding and expanding its area of operations.

Nevertheless al Shabaab remains in control of much of the country and earlier this month it underscored its commitment to violent extremism by publicly declaring its affiliation to al Qaida.

A recent report by the Royal United Services Institute thinktank estimated that there were currently around 200 foreign fighters in training camps in the country - with around a quarter of them coming from Britain.

The report echoed a warning made by MI5 director general Jonathan Evans in 2010 that it was "only a matter of time" before there were terrorist attacks on the streets of Britain inspired by those fighting in Somalia.

With the London Olympics later this year, Cameron has acknowledged that the security threat from al Shabaab was "real" and "substantial".

"The threat to our national security is growing. Young British minds are being poisoned by radicalism. Pirates are disrupting vital trade routes and kidnapping tourists and aid workers," he said on Thursday morning.

"The Shabab control a third of the country. Famine and instability in Somalia are spreading instability across the wider region.

"Our national interest is clear: we can't just sit back and let all this carry on."

Officials said Cameron's decision to summon the conference - being held at Lancaster House - reflected the deep concern in Whitehall at the threat posed by the continuing instability.

"It is clear that there are British nationals who have been among the foreign fighters who find a haven in al Shabaab areas," said one senior diplomat.

"We know al Shabaab has reach beyond Somalia. What we are talking about is not simply a threat to the region - it is a threat to the UK."