Somali Islamic Leader Surrenders in Kenya

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

NAIROBI, Jan. 22 -- A top moderate leader of Somalia's ousted Islamic Courts movement surrendered to Kenyan authorities Monday, and U.S. officials are hoping he can help subdue a rising insurgency among the movement's supporters on the streets of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

After dodging U.S. and Ethiopian airstrikes in the mangrove forests of southern Somalia, Sharif Ahmed is under the protection of Kenyan authorities in a comfortable Nairobi hotel that he is not allowed to leave. U.S. officials have never accused him of any crime and are portraying him as a moderate Islamic leader with whom the Somali government should negotiate.

European Union officials have made reconciliation with Islamic leaders in Somalia a condition of financing a proposal to send African Union peacekeepers to the country.

The U.S. and European diplomatic pressure to negotiate comes as Somali and Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu are conducting house-to-house hunts almost daily for people accused of supporting the Islamic movement, which Ethiopian troops overthrew last month.

The ongoing purge in the broken-down capital is creating an atmosphere veering toward paranoia. Many Somalis, including members of the new government's parliament, have gone into hiding for fear of being arrested, and others are afraid even to talk about the ousted Islamic movement, according to people in several Mogadishu neighborhoods who were interviewed by telephone.

Abdirahman Dinari, a spokesman for the Somali government, declined to comment on the prospect of negotiations with Ahmed or other Islamic leaders. He said the arrests in recent weeks have targeted people suspected of involvement in attacks on Somali and Ethiopian troops, including the shelling of the presidential residence in Mogadishu on Friday. On Saturday, the deputy chairman of the Islamic Courts, Ahmed Qare, asserted responsibility for that attack.

"If there is someone who is innocent, we will release them," Dinari said.

Families, neighbors and some local leaders, however, describe the arrests as part witch hunt and part orchestrated campaign of revenge.

"Anyone known to have spoken out in favor of the Courts is in hiding," said Mohamud Uluso, a prominent member of the sub-sub clan called the Ayr, which had provided substantial military and financial support to the Islamic Courts. "They did not commit any crime, but publicly they supported the Courts. They did not kill anyone. They did nothing."

According to witnesses, the arrests have at times been more like kidnappings, with plainclothes security forces blindfolding people, throwing them into trucks and hauling them off to secret locations. There have been reports of Somalis settling petty arguments with neighbors by accusing them of supporting the Islamic Courts, with Ethiopian troops then swooping in to take the accused away.

While some of those arrested have been released after several days -- or after relatives pay -- others remain missing.

Ethiopian and Somali government troops came after dark last week to Ahmed Luqman's crowded, lantern-lit neighborhood, where he has lived with his wife and six children for more than 20 years.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company