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Somalia's Sufi Muslim Leaders Surrender to Government

FILE - Somalia's Prime Minister Hassan Ali Kheyre meets with ASWJ leaders in Dhusamareeb, Sept. 3, 2019, in a photo released by the Prime Minister's Office.

The leaders of a Sufi Muslim group turned themselves into the custody of the Somali government Saturday after fighting left 22 people dead in central Somalia.

Moallim Mohamud Sheikh, the spiritual leader, and Sheikh Mohamed Shakir, the chief of Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jamaa (ASWJ), are in the custody of the Somali national army in the town of Dhusamareb after the group’s militias were overpowered in a battle with government forces. Dhusamareb is the administrative capital of Galmudug state.

"Our security forces have ended the standoff and disarmed all ASWJ militias,” Osman Isse Nur, the spokesperson of the newly elected president, told VOA.

Speaking in a video posted online, ASWJ chief Sheikh Shakir said his group ceded power to the Somali national army.

"We agreed to end the fighting for the sake of the civilians. We agreed to hand over ASWJ militias to the commander general who will, in return, take responsibility for the safety of all our members, including the leader,” Shakir said in the video.

At least 22 people were killed in clashes that broke out Thursday night after ASWJ militias fired on a government checkpoint in Dhusamareeb.

The fighting continued Friday morning before spreading to the nearby town of Guricel in the Galgadud region.

Reports say normalcy returned to Dhusamareb Saturday as residents, who were forced to flee, came back and reopened their businesses.

Three rival politicians are claiming to be the leader of Galmudug state. Early this month, the parliament of Galmudug elected Ahmed Abdi Kariye as president. He is a former minister backed by the government. ASWJ chief Sheikh Shakir rejected the action, however, and declared himself president, while former president Ahmed Duale refused to cede power.

The Sufi group ASWJ played a pivotal role in the fight against al-Shabab militants, and early this week, a U.S. diplomat said in remarks at the U.N. Security Council briefing that internal rivalries among allies in Somalia could derail the effort to combat al-Qaida-linked insurgents.