The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has arrived in east Africa to pledge America's help in confronting the growing international threat posed by Islamist terrorists in Somalia
Her visit to Kenya, where she is due to meet Somalia's embattled president, began as Australia was still reeling from the arrest of four men who had allegedly plotted a Mumbai-style assault on an army barracks in Sydney and have links to the al-Shabaab terrorist group based in Mogadishu.
Al-Shabaab, which is inspired by al-Qaeda, has long threatened to export its jihadist campaign outside the borders of the failed state. Western intelligence officials have been growing increasingly concerned about its potential to strike beyond the Horn of Africa.
The Daily Telegraph also reported this week that the US Secret Service had investigated a plot linked to al-Shabaab that had targeted President Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony in Washington in January.
Mrs Clinton is expected to offer Somalia increased US support to boost the efforts of its president, Sheikh Sharif, to crush the widening al-Shabaab insurgency which, like the president, is based in Mogadishu.
In June, Washington shipped 40 tons of weapons and ammunition to Mr Sharif's government.
The US state department considers his fledgling government as a key ally in combating the group, which now controls most of Somalia.
"People have always been somewhat leery about making al-Shabaab out to be an organisation capable of international terrorism," said EJ Hogendoorn, the Horn of Africa specialist at the International Crisis Group in Nairobi.
"But they've made pretty provocative statements about their willingness to take jihad to other countries, and what we have seen in Australia is clearly a very worrying development."
This makes Mrs Clinton's meeting on Thursday with Mr Sharif - the highest level contact by a US official with Somalia's moderate Islamist government - all the more important.
Just three years ago, Mr Sharif was co-chairman of the Islamic Courts Union, an Islamist group which brought brief stability to Somalia but was suspected by Washington of harbouring al-Qaeda members.
Now, in the face of the al-Shabaab onslaught, the president offers "the best possible chance for restoring stability to southern Somalia", said Johnnie Carson, Washington's assistant secretary of state for African affairs, ahead of Mrs Clinton's visit.
"We think that the problems in southern Somalia have started to bleed regionally and internationally," he said, as he flagged US readiness to provide "additional assistance" to Mr Sharif's administration.
"We think that the support for Sheikh Sharif and his government offers an opportunity to be able to restore some stability, fight against the Somali Islamic extremists of al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, the two groups that are working against them."
It is unclear what help could be on the table during Thursday's meeting, which will be held on the sidelines of a US-Africa trade conference in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.
Mr Sharif's authority extends barely half a dozen blocks from the presidential palace in his ruined capital, Mogadishu, and that is largely enforced by a beleaguered force of African Union peacekeepers. Al-Shabaab controls almost all of the rest of southern and central Somalia.
There are grave concerns that US arms shipments will bolster al-Shabaab's claim of foreign interference in Somalia, a key plank in its call for foreign fighters to join its jihad.
"It is an impossibly delicate line that they have to tread," said a Western diplomat in Nairobi.
"Sharif clearly needs more muscle to combat al-Shabaab, but if it's the US which provides that, it makes al-Shabaab stronger. It's a vicious and potentially even more deadly circle."
More than 18,000 people have died and up to 930,000 now rely on international food aid since fighting between al-Shabaab and Mr Sharif's transitional federal government erupted last year.