Top Somali Islamist 'surrenders'


Jan 22, 2007

One of Somalia's Islamist leaders has given himself up to the Kenyan authorities, a Kenyan police source has told the BBC.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, seen as a moderate, surrendered in the north-eastern Kenyan town of Wajir, the policeman said.

The US and the UN have urged the Somali government to seek reconciliation with moderate Islamists, such as Mr Ahmed.

The Islamists were driven out of the capital, Mogadishu, last month.

Ethiopian forces helped the government oust the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), who had taken control of much of southern Somalia.

But the government says some 3,500 Islamist fighters remain in Mogadishu

Mr Ahmed is the first Somali Islamist leader to be captured since the UIC was ousted in December. It is not clear whether he was on his own.

He has been flown to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, where he is reportedly under police guard in a hotel.

It is understood that the Kenyan authorities are in discussions with the United States about what should happen to him now.

But the US denies it is questioning him.

"The US government is not holding or interrogating Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and was not involved in his capture or surrender," a US embassy official said, reading from a prepared statement.

The US accused Islamist hardliners of working with al-Qaeda - charges they denied.

The US supported the Ethiopian and Somali drive against the UIC.

Islamists arrested

At least two people were killed early on Monday morning in Mogadishu, after government and Ethiopian troops tried to arrest suspected Islamist militants.

They raided houses in northern Mogadishu, in an area where an Ethiopian convoy was attacked on Saturday, leaving four people dead.

The BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan in the city says two suspected Islamists were arrested.

He says explosives had been used to blow the door off a house, where an Islamist suspect was believed to be hiding.

During the raid, locals threw stones and fired at the government and Ethiopian troops.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Friday told the BBC that he would start withdrawing his troops within "a few days".

Malawi has agreed to send contribute troops to a proposed African Union peacekeeping force to replace the Ethiopians.

Defence Minister Davies Katsonga told the BBC that Malawi was considering whether to send a whole battalion (about 1,000 troops) or half a battalion.

"This will depend on who else is contributing to the AU initiative," he said.

He said since the AU wants to move in "as soon as possible" to avoid a power vacuum when the Ethiopians withdraw.

Uganda is the only other country to have publicly offered to contribute to the proposed 8,000-strong force.

South Africa, Tanzania and Nigeria are considering whether to take part.