June 27, 2006 (MOGADISHU) — Members of an Islamic militia that controls most of southern Somalia battled for a clan-held checkpoint early Tuesday, killing five people before declaring victory, witnesses said.
The checkpoint connecting the capital, Mogadishu, to the Lower Shabelle region was manned by members of the Habar Gidir clan. Three of the victims were civilians, said clan leader Abdi Kaibdid.
The Islamic militia seized control of the capital and much of southern Somalia from an alliance of secular warlords earlier this month. Washington, which accuses the militia of harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, supported the warlords in an attempt to root out militants.
Monday, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the radical cleric who is the militia’s new leader, said he envisions an Islamic state, a stand likely to reinforce U.S. fears the nation could become a haven for extremists. Aweys was on the U.S. watch list as a suspected collaborator with al-Qaida.
Underlining the apparent tougher line, militia leaders said Monday that they will publicly stone to death four suspected rapists if they are convicted in Jowhar, 90 kilometers from Mogadishu.
“Somalia is a Muslim nation and its people are also Muslim, 100 percent. Therefore any government we agree on would be based on the holy Quran and the teachings of our Prophet Muhammad,” Aweys told The AP in a telephone interview, his first comments to the media since being named head of the Islamic militia Saturday.
Aweys’ stance could put Somalia on a collision course with the U.S. and the U.N. The previous militia leader, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, had been reaching out to the West and Somalia’s largely powerless U.N.-backed interim government.
The 71-year-old Aweys, speaking from his home in central Somalia, condemned Western-style democracy and said he was under no obligation to abide by the wishes of the West.
“It is not compulsory for us to hate what the Westerners hate,” said Aweys, a former military colonel.
“Our relationship with the U.S. administration will depend on how the U.S. treats us,” he added. “If it treats us well, we will also treat them well. If it behaves badly, it will be responsible.”
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the U.S. put Aweys on a watch list because he and an Islamic group he founded – al-Itihaad – were believed to have had links to Osama bin Laden while bin Laden was living in Sudan in the early 1990s. U.S. officials haven’t elaborated on the alleged links.
Aweys went into hiding after the Sept. 11 attacks and didn’t reemerge until August 2005, when he helped found the Islamic militia, now known as the Somali Supreme Islamic Courts Council. He told the AP previously that al-Itihaad no longer existed and that he had no ties to al-Qaida.
Aweys said Monday that he did not know of any so-called terrorists in Somalia. “If we discover them we will take suitable steps against them,” he said.