The leader of the Union of Islamic Courts says there is no Al-Qaida in Somalia – and that his organization has no relationship with the terrorist group. In an interview broadcast on Al-Jazeera television, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed says the Islamic Courts Union “was chosen by the Somali people to serve clear objectives” that were achieved.
Timothy Othieno is a senior researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue in Midrand, South Africa. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about Sheik Ahmed’s comments and the current status of the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
“The perception of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia has been it’s a radical organization. It’s got Al-Qaida members embedded within its system. Precisely because of that, the US-backed Ethiopian troops actually invaded Somalia in order to topple the Islamic Courts Union.
“But I can understand Sheik Ahmed’s position. Remember, even though he’s the chairman of the council, he’s considered one of the moderates…. It was an opportune time for Sheik Ahmed to come out and state categorically that they don’t have Al-Qaida elements within the union… the TFG and the Ethiopian government come in and say the Union of Islamic Courts are supported by foreign elements, the majority of whom are members of Al-Qaida. And this of course sent shivers down the spine of the international community. This hasn’t been substantiated. Even that (US) attack in the southern part of Somalia did not result in any capture of…Al-Qaida members buried within the retreating Islamic Courts Union,” he says.
Asked whether anyone will believe Sheik Ahmed, Othieno says, “Well, it’s quite difficult at the moment. They’re fighting a losing battle…. Whether they’ll be believed or not, that’s a difficult one.” But he says the TFG is not proving the case of an Al-Qaida presence either. “On the side of the international community…they haven’t clearly arrested any Al Qaida members, who would said to be part of this Islamic Courts Union. It’s all about statements now.”