Features

Mogadishu moment

"Mogadishu moment" Continued...

Issue: "Wildfire," June 24, 2006

But war-weariness means many Mogadishu residents appreciate the law and order the Islamic Courts Union has brought. While analysts consider leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed a moderate, his deputies are radicals. Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and Adan Hashi Ayro began the Somali terrorist group al-Ittihad al-Islami, which has reported links to al-Qaeda. Still, Mr. Ahmed did not sound very moderate initially when addressing a rally soon after taking over: "Until we get the Islamic state, we will continue with the Islamic struggle in Somalia." He was even more aggressive when talking to the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat daily, saying, "If U.S. forces intervene directly against us in Mogadishu, then we are ready to teach them a lesson they will never forget and repeat their defeat in 1993."

But Mr. Ahmed's tone quickly turned conciliatory in an e-mail to diplomats, promising no shared "objectives, goals or methods with groups that sponsor or support terrorism," particularly al-Qaeda. He said the Union would like "a friendly relationship with the international community that is based on mutual respect and interest and seek their support for the Somali peace process." The leader also extended an olive branch to warlords and clans, describing the Union's desire to end the bloodshed. If nothing else, the Union knows the warlords remain a threat and see a need to widen support for their power. "I don't think they were ready for a victory at this moment. . . . They were the underdogs in this fight," said Mr. Baldo.

The burning question is whether the Islamic Courts Union will turn militant. "Now they're in control of Mogadishu, the stakes are higher," Mr. Baldo said. "Those who are militant may try to control the process now."

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