MOGADISHU, Jun 30 – Somali security forces arrested veteran Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys after he flew in to Mogadishu for talks with government officials, police said on Sunday.
“There was a big argument that turned into a fist fight between the security forces who arrested Sheik Aweys and members of the delegation accompanying him who resisted the arrest,” a senior police officer told AFP of the arrest on Saturday.
Yusuf Mohamed Siyad, a member of the same Ayr sub-clan as Aweys and who arrived in Mogadishu with him, confirmed the arrest at the capital’s airport.
However, the reason for his detention was not immediately clear.
Aweys – a former army colonel and a hero of Somalia’s 1977-78 war with Ethiopia – is on both US and UN Security Council terrorism sanctions lists, but no bounty has been placed on his head.
Now in his late 70s, Aweys was a top leader of the Islamic Courts Union, a radical group that ruled Somalia in 2006 before being overthrown by Ethiopian troops who stormed Somalia in a US-backed invasion.
He had flown into the capital from the autonomous Himan and Heeb region in central Somalia, where he had fled after clashes with top Shabaab commander Ahmed Abdi Godane in the southern port town of Barawe earlier this month.
He flew to the capital on the understanding he would hold talks with government officials, said Siyad, a general who served briefly as defence minister in the transitional government before defecting in 2010.
“The government has broken its promises and arrested Sheikh Aweys and his delegation, and they also humiliated the government lawmakers who helped him come to Mogadishu and some of them are now in prison with him,” he told reporters.
“When they sent us to Adado (the capital of Himan and Heeb), the government promised they would host Sheik Aweys if we convinced him to come to Mogadishu but things have changed,” he said.
The arrest of Aweys came on the same day as an announcement by the Shabaab that they had killed two of their own top commanders, one with a $5 million United States bounty on his head.
“We have informed their widows of their deaths, as they must now wear the clothes of mourning,” Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab told AFP.
The pair killed are two co-founders of the Islamist group, including US-wanted Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, better known by his nickname Al-Afghani — “the Afghan” — due to his training and fighting with Islamist guerrillas there.
Washington offered the $5 million bounty for Afghani, who opposed the command of top Shabaab leader Godane.