Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of Hizbu Islam has dismissed reports that he was seriously injured or even killed during a confrontation between followers of Ahlu Sunna wal-Jamea, a pro-government Islamic sect and opposition fighters.
At a press conference in an undisclosed location in Mogadishu on Monday, the Sheikh reiterated that he was fine in good health, calling the speculations ‘an enemy propaganda.’
Reports of Sheikh Aweys’ injuries and possibility of death has been a public interest since Saturday following deadly clashes between followers of Ahlu Sunna wal-Jamea against Al-Shabaab and Hizbu Islam fighters at Wabho village in Galgadud region, Central Somalia.
“News of my death is unfounded,” said Sheikh Aweys. “Every person is destined to die, but it will come the day sanctioned by Allah,” he added.
Sheikh Aweys repeated his call for the withdrawal of peacekeepers serving the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom). He called Amisom peacekeepers ‘the enemy of the Somali people.”
The radical groups
The Sheikh accused the international community under the auspices of the United Nations of siding with the government lead by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and causing unnecessary interventions.
“Unless the Somali people are allowed to frame their own fate, we will never have sustainable peace in the country,” he said.
Al-Shabaab and Hizbu Islam fighters rejected the reconciliation proposed by the Transitional Federal Government.
Contrary to moderate Islamists, especially from the defunct Union of the Islamic Courts, who joined the TFG in January 2009, the radical groups rejected the option of reconciling with the government.
The two radical groups control most of Southern and Central Somalia. However, government forces, the Islamist militias that joined the TFG, Ahlu Sunna wal-Jamea loyalists and even the former warlords with the potential of controlling clan militias appear rallying behind President Sheikh Sharif’s government.
Sheikh Aweys once served as the spiritual and military leader of al-Ittihaad al-Islami, an Islamist organisation on US terrorist group watch lists.
Its aim is establishing an Islamic nation of all Somalis—including those in Kenya— ruled exclusively by Sharia law.
Ittihaad is believed to have supported the Al-Qaeda’s 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and a suicide-bomb attack on the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa in 2002.
In February, 2006 on a Jihadist website, Sheikh Aweys is said to have authorised the use of suicide terrorism to attack targets in Ethiopia and Kenya.
However, the radical preacher has consistently denied any links to terrorism.
Sheikh Aweys is among top leaders of the group who are said to have established strong ties with other militant Islamist groups across the world.
The military wing
Al-Ittihad enlisted thousands of fighters during the early 1990s, including al-Qaeda members based in Sudan.
Following a conference in 1991 (during which time al-Ittihad was attempting to exercise control in the power vacuum of Somali politics), Ali Warsame was serving as a head of the group with Aweys as the leader of the military wing.
Al-Ittihad began receiving substantial funding from wealthy Saudi individuals and Muslim World League and the International Islamic Relief Organisation—two organisations suspected to be financial supporters of al-Qaeda.
Al-Ittihad took over and maintained control of some areas of Somalia and implemented strict versions of Islamic law there. Members of the group travelled freely throughout the Horn and established an extensive network in Kenya.
While al-Ittihad was attempting to establish an Islamic state in Somalia, al-Qaeda was sending funding, arms and fighters to support the Islamists, and shared the same goal—the creation of an Islamic state in Somalia.
Osama Bin Laden acknowledged in two interviews that he supplied arms and training to the mujahidin who killed 18 American soldiers during Operation Restore Hope in October, 1993.
He provided these materials to the fighters under the warlord
Muhammad Farah Aideed, who had affiliated himself with al-Ittihad.
Though the potency of group was reduced in 1997 by Ethiopian soldiers, its membership remained intact under the umbrella of the Islamic Courts Union.
Sheikh Hassan Aweys established the first Islamic court in the southern region of Mogadishu.
In 1999, he became the head of the Southern Mogadishu Islamic Courts, and used the courts to promote Islamist goals similar to those of al-Ittihad.
Position to contest
The radical preacher was appointed to the senior leadership role in the Council of Islamic Courts (formerly referred to as the Islamic Courts Union).
The Council of Islamic Courts has two administrative bodies: an executive committee of eight people recently headed by the more moderate Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, and an 80-member shura, or decision- making body, lead by Aweys.
He used his position to contest the transitional government in Somalia, prior to the Ethiopian-backed military intervention which expelled the Islamists from Mogadishu in December.
While serving as the al-Ittihad military chief in the 1990s, Aweys is said to have trained Adan Hashi Ayro, who served as militia commander in the group and later in the Council of Islamic Courts.
Aweys is believed to have mentored Ayro, planned military operations and organised terrorist training camps with him.
Ayro, a Sheikh Aweys’ protégé, is closely linked to al-Qaeda.