24 March 2009

Somalia: Discord Among Hizbul Islam Faction

A newly established Islamist faction in Somalia has become embroiled in a power struggle, Radio Garowe reports.

Hizbul Islam [Party of Islam] was formed in January after four Islamist groups joined forces, including the Eritrea-based Islamic Courts faction, Ras Kamboni Brigade and 'Anole.

On Monday, a group claiming to represent Hizbul Islam held a press conference in the Somali capital Mogadishu, telling reporters that the faction's chairman, Dr. Omar Iman, was replaced by another cleric named Sheikh Mohamed Hassan Ahmed.

The press conference, held at the ex-pasta factory, was attended by some members of Hizbul Islam, including notorious ex-warlord Yusuf Mohamed Siad "Indho Ade."

Interestingly, Dr. Omar Iman was not present at the press conference and has not commented publicly yet.

Daud Mohamed Abtidon, the "new spokesman" for Hizbul Islam, accused Dr. Omar Iman of refusing to accept the Islamic scholars' calls for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of African Union peacekeepers [AMISOM].

Indho Ade, who joined the Islamic Courts movement in 2006, also spoke at the press conference, saying: "The group [Hizbul Islam] has agreed to remove Sheikh Omar Iman since he made a mistake and violated the group's laws."

Dr. Omar Iman came under political fire after Hizbul Islam fighters claimed responsibility for two consecutive days of fighting against AMISOM troops in Mogadishu late last month, killing upwards of 50 people.

Sheikh Mohamed Hassan Ahmed, the new chairman of Hizbul Islam, reiterated the Islamist group's new position that they will cease all attacks against AMISOM and "wait" for the outcome of the Muslim scholars' declaration, which demanded AMISOM withdrawal within 120 days, beginning on March 1.

Aweys rejection

Eritrea-based Islamist hardliner Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys rejected Indho Ade's assertion that Dr. Omar Iman was removed as Hizbul Islam chairman.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Sheikh Aweys defended Dr. Iman's leadership, saying: "No one can take authority away from Sheikh Omar Iman, because the group [Hizbul Islam] appointed him as chairman."

Sheikh Aweys suggested that Indho Ade and his allies "should have formed a new group instead," while accusing Indho Ade of "attempting to destroy" Hizbul Islam.

"Indho Ade played a good role in the [Islamic Courts] war against the [Mogadishu] warlords, but he has made it normal to destroy every group he is part of," said Sheikh Aweys, in his first public comments chastising Indho Ade, a fellow clansman.

According to Aweys, Indho Ade "raised" Al Shabaab while he was the warlord of Lower Shabelle region but later distanced himself from Al Shabaab.

Somalia's various Islamist factions were once under the banner of the Islamic Courts Union, which was led by Sheikh Aweys as legislative head and Sheikh Sharif Ahmed as executive chief.

In January, Sheikh Sharif was elected the interim President of Somalia at the conclusion of UN-backed peace talks in Djibouti.

Sheikh Aweys said he "welcomes" mediation between him and former ally Sheikh Sharif, but warned that their differences were "not personal, but based on principles."

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