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Somalia Opposition Leader Denies Reports He Was Wounded


Somalia's hard-line Islamist opposition leader, Hassan Dahir Aweys, appeared before the media in the Somali capital to dispel rumors that he was gravely wounded last week during a battle in central Somalia.

The Islamist cleric showed no visible signs of injury as he walked into a room full of journalists, opposition supporters, and curious residents.

Flanked by several armed bodyguards with their faces hidden behind scarves, Hassan Dahir Aweys told reporters he was "healthy and fit," mocking claims by a rival religious, pro-government group called Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a that Aweys was shot and possibly killed during last Friday's battle for control of Wabho town in the central Galgadud region.

Aweys says the fighting will continue in Somalia until Islamic law is implemented throughout the country and the African Union withdraws its 4,300 peacekeeping troops from Mogadishu.

Aweys made the same statement in April, when he returned to Mogadishu from exile and vowed to lead a bloody campaign against Somalia's weak, five month-old government of his former ally, moderate Islamist leader Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed.

Aweys, who is on the U.S. and U.N. lists of suspected terrorists, was recently named the new leader of a coalition of militant anti-government groups called Hisbul Islam. Hisbul Islam is in an uneasy alliance with Somalia's al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab group to drive out AU peacekeepers and to oust President Sharif's U.N.-supported government from power.

The government has ruled out ordering peacekeepers to leave Somalia. But the Somali parliament recently agreed to install Islamic law in the country. The insurgents have not been appeased, insisting the law passed by parliament is not the version they want implemented.

Early last month, Hisbul Islam and al-Shabab attempted to take control of key areas in Mogadishu under the control of the government. But they failed, largely because of the presence of African Union troops.

Since then, near daily fighting and violence in the capital has forced almost 100,000 people to flee their homes.

The separate fighting in central Somalia pits Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a against al-Shabab and Hisbul Islam. Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a is an established religious brotherhood of Sufi Muslims, which took up arms several months ago to defend against religious attacks by al-Shabab. Al-Shabab members adhere to the Salafist-Wahabbist version of Islam and consider Sufism to be heretical.

Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a and al-Shabab have clashed numerous times in central Somalia in recent months. But sectarian tensions boiled over late last month when al-Shabab officials in the Bardhere district in Gedo region destroyed the graves of several revered Sufi religious leaders buried there.

On Sunday, a human rights group in Mogadishu reported that more than 120 people, mostly combatants, may have been killed in Friday's battle in central Somalia.

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