Top leader of Somalia's Islamic militia arrested


January 15, 2007

GARISSA, Kenya (AP) -- Kenyan police arrested a top leader in Somalia's Islamic militant movement on Monday, a Kenyan security official said.

The leader was arrested at midmorning at a refugee camp near the Kenyan border with Somalia, the official said, quoting from a police report. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said he was on his way to the Dadaab refugee camp, 62 miles (100 kilometers) east of Garisa, to help identify the suspect.

If confirmed, the arrest could be a major step toward ending the fighting in Somalia, which began when Ethiopian troops intervened to stop the Islamic movement's advance to destroy the internationally backed government. Top movement leaders Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys and Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed have pledged to carry on a guerrilla war as long as Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia.

Unidentified gunmen have repeatedly attacked Ethiopian troops in the capital, Mogadishu, over the last two weeks.

Aweys was the founder of the Council of Islamic Courts, which took up arms to establish an Islamic emirate in Somalia in January. Before that, he was a senior leader of al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, a group listed by the United States as a terrorist organization with ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.

Ahmed is considered a religious moderate compared to Aweys. He emerged as the leader of the courts' executive council in early 2006, but has been named as a religious leader who could be part of national reconciliation talks to end 16 years of clan violence in Somalia.

The Horn of Africa country has not had an effective central government since 1991, when clan warlords overthrew the government and then turned on each other. The Islamic courts control most of southern Somalia for six months, until Ethiopia intervened on December 24. Within 10 days, the Islamic council had been driven out of all major towns and was in hiding.