Somali Militia Head Tied to Bin Laden
Sunday, June 25, 2006
MOGADISHU, Somalia, June 24 -- An Islamic fundamentalist who is listed by the State Department as a suspected al-Qaeda collaborator was named Saturday as the new leader of a Muslim militia that has seized control of Somalia's capital.
The militia, which changed its name Saturday from the Islamic Courts Union to the Conservative Council of Islamic Courts, said in a statement it had appointed Hassan Dahir Aweys as its new leader. The Bush administration said Aweys was an associate of Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s.
The Islamic militia seized control of the capital, Mogadishu, and much of southern Somalia from an alliance of secular warlords this month. Aweys's appointment makes it unlikely that the increasingly powerful militia will govern using the moderate brand of Islam practiced by most Somalis.
Aweys appeared on a list of people and organizations accused of having ties to terrorism that the United States released after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A conservative Somali group called al-Itihaad al-Islaami, and its founder, Aweys, were featured for their alleged links to bin Laden while the al-Qaeda leader was living in Sudan in the early 1990s.
Aweys, a cleric believed to be in his sixties, has said in past interviews that al-Itihaad no longer exists and that he has no ties to al-Qaida.
In recent years, he helped establish the Islamic Courts Union militia and continues to be one of the group's most influential and fundamentalist leaders, strenuously advocating a strict Islamic government to end 15 years of anarchy.
In 1991, warlords drove out dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and turned on each other, rendering Somalia a patchwork of rival fiefdoms.
Aweys, who went into hiding after the Sept. 11 attacks and reemerged in August 2005, has condemned the new U.N.-backed transitional government in Somalia. That largely powerless government is based in Baidoa, 90 miles northwest of Mogadishu, because the capital is so violent. It has taken control of only a small portion of the nation of 7 million.
Aweys replaces Sharif Ahmed, who had softened his rhetoric calling for strict Islamic law and agreed this week to recognize the interim government.
Separately, the Islamic militia said earlier Saturday it was investigating the killing of an award-winning Swedish journalist, who was fatally shot while covering a demonstration in Mogadishu. Somalia has no police force, and the militia said it had assembled a team of 10 former police and military officers to investigate the killing of Martin Adler.
Adler, 47, was shot once in the back Friday by an unidentified gunman who disappeared as demonstrators fled in panic, witnesses said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross was flying his body out of Mogadishu.
The shooting was an embarrassment for the militia group, which has pledged to pacify Mogadishu.
The Swedish news agency TT described Adler -- a cameraman, photographer and reporter -- as one of the country's most successful video journalists. He had covered some 20 conflicts and other stories in dozens of nations.
According to the agency, Adler said his work required "keeping up with world affairs and always having a bag packed."
"You can die anywhere at any time," Adler said in a January 2005 interview with Amnesty Press. "But you can eliminate 90 percent of the risks" through careful preparation and keeping a cool head.