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Monday, June 19, 2006

Somali Islamists impose Sharia law

Somalia's dominant Islamist militia on Monday imposed Sharia law in the former warlord stronghold of Jowhar, making good on their vows to bring Islamic theocracy to the shattered Horn of Africa nation.

The Joint Islamic Courts militia named three hard-line preachers to chair the Jowhar administration, which will also include a tribunal to oversee the implementation of Sharia.

"This is a temporary Islamic administration that will help in the restoration of justice and order in this very important town," said militia chief Sheikh Shariff Sheikh Ahmed, after chairing the inter-clan panel that oversaw the decision.

"I hope the new administration will quickly implement the Sharia law," he told elders in Jowhar, the town about 90km north of Mogadishu, which fell to their forces last week.

The new administration will be headed by Sheikh Osman Mohamed Muhamoud, a hard-line imam, or preacher, from the capital Mogadishu.

He will be assisted by Sheikh Mohamed Sheikh Mohamoud Abdulrahman, a reputed madrassa teacher who openly advocates a strict interpretation of the Koran, and the little-known Sheikh Moalim Hassan.

Last week Islamic militia routed warlords from Jowhar, which had acted as key supply town for members of the United States-backed Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism (ARPCT) in southern Somalia. It also formerly housed the fledgling Somali transitional government before it moved to Baidoa further west.

The ARPCT was formed in February with US support in a bid to curb the growing influence of the Islamic courts, hunt down the extremists they are accused of sheltering and disrupt feared plans for new terrorist attacks.

At least three terror suspects, including some of the accused in the al-Qaeda-claimed 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya, are thought to be in Somalia.

Washington has never publicly confirmed or denied its support for the alliance but US officials have told Agence France-Presse they have given the warlords money and intelligence to help to rein in "creeping Talibanisation" in Somalia.

The support is controversial and has been denounced by the country's largely powerless transitional government as well as Kenya, which recently banned Somali warlords from its territory, closing off a traditional safe haven.

More than four months of clashes between Islamic militia and the warlords alliance claimed at least 360 lives and wounded more than 2 000 others. -- AFP
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