Mogadishu — Opposition to Somalia's newest leader, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, gained disturbing momentum Wednesday after four factions announced plans to merge and declare war on the new government.
Sheikh Hassan Mahdi, a senior member of ARS-Eritrea faction, told reporters that all the groups merged to fight new President Sheikh Sharif and the anticipated 'unity government.'
He said the new group's name is Hisbi Islam ("Islamic Party") and described the four group as: Islamic Courts-Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys faction; Jabhatul Islamiya ("Islamic Front"); Mu'askar Ras Kamboni; and Anole.
"The decision to form a united front came after many meetings among these groups, and we united to continue the jihad and to rule the country [Somalia] under Islamic law," Sheikh Mahdi said.
He strongly criticized Sheikh Sharif for adopting a secular constitution and "turning away from Islam," while describing the new government as "the same as [ex-President] Abdullahi Yusuf's government."
According to Sheikh Mahdi, the Al Shabaab faction is not a member of the newly-formed Islamic Party, but noted that the two sides have taken "identical positions" and suggested plans to begin merger talks soon.
He accused Ethiopia of re-sending soldiers to Somalia, while condemning African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) for "massacring" civilians following a roadside blast in Mogadishu.
Ethiopia's government has denied sending troops back to Somalia after withdrawing last month following a deeply unpopular, two-year military occupation.
However, witnesses and Islamist administrators in the central Hiran region have reported Ethiopian troops' presence along a strategic road inside Somalia's international boundaries.
In Mogadishu, AMISOM is recuperating after local officials publicly blamed the peacekeepers for gunning down 39 civilians. That figure was later corrected by Somali police chief, Gen. Abdi Qeybdiid, who put the death toll at 13 victims.
Somalia's new leader is under tremendous pressure to bring change to a country that has resisted powerful forces and brought down towering figures.
Sheikh Sharif, 43, is a soft-spoken Islamist politician whose claim to fame earned him praise as Mogadishu's savior when, in mid-2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) he led defeated despised warlords and restored order to the capital.
He was elected president by a 550-seat parliament, which included members of a warlord-dominated interim government (TFG) and an Islamist-dominated opposition faction (ARS-Djibouti).
The UN-endorsed election took place in neighboring Djibouti, another disheartening reminder of the sheer lawlessness that has paralyzed the Somali nation from reaching its full potential.
Sheikh Sharif's presidency is not recognized by powerful groups inside the country that control most of the territory of the Somali Republic, including Somaliland, Puntland and Al Shabaab.
But he traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to participate at the annual African Union summit as the Somali head of state, where he was heralded as the country's change leader with deep ties to the Islamist community.
He vowed to African leaders that he will work harmoniously with the world community and appealed for their support.
On Wednesday, President Sheikh Sharif returned to Djibouti leading a delegation that included TFG Prime Minister Nur "Adde" Hassan Hussein and Information Minister Ahmed Abdisalam.
The BBC had reported that Sheikh Sharif asked the AU summit for help to deal with "extremists" who oppose the peace process.
But Mr. Abdirahman Abdishakur, the new president's adviser and ARS member, later told the BBC Somali Service that Sheikh Sharif did not ask for foreign peacekeepers to be sent to Somalia.
He was denying rumors - reportedly spread by Ethiopian officials at the AU summit - that President Sheikh Sharif has requested African governments to send more peacekeepers to Mogadishu.
The 3,500-strong AMISOM force from Uganda and Burundi is short of the 8,000 peacekeepers pledged by the AU more than two years ago.