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Hardline Somali Islamist Cleric Returns Home | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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MOGADISHU (AFP) – A radical Somali Islamist leader branded a terrorist by the US returned to the war-wracked country Thursday after more than two years in exile in Eritrea, an Islamist group said.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys fled Somalia after Ethiopian troops rolled into the country and ousted his Islamist movement in January 2007, after it had taken control of large parts of the country’s southern and central regions.

“Sheikh Aweys has arrived and is having discussions with his supporters in Afgoye” west of Mogadishu, said Muse Abdi Arale, spokesman of Islamist group Hizb al-Islamiya after he touched down at an airport close to Mogadishu earlier Thursday.

While in Eritrea, Aweys broke ranks with then Islamist opposition group led by Sharif Sheikh Ahmed — Somalia’s current president — to form a splinter faction which was opposed to United Nations-led talks that brought Ahmed to power in January.

Both men were top officials of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that ruled Somalia in the second half of 2006 after defeating a US-backed warlord alliance.

With the toppling of the ICU by the Ethiopia-backed Somali forces, they each later found refuge in the Eritrean capital Asmara alongside several officials of the Islamist group.

The ousted members then formed the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), but in July 2008, Aweys declared himself the group’s leader, opposed Ahmed and demanded Ethiopia’s withdrawal.

Ahmed’s government has come under repeated attacks by hardline Islamist groups at home and last week gunmen killed a lawmaker and Islamist security official who had joined his administration.

The Horn of Africa government has had no effective central authority for 18 years since president Mohamed Siad Barre ouster sparked cycles of violence.