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Islamist leader: Somalia can solve its own troubles

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Sheikh Sharif Ahmed

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NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- Militia fighters in Somalia affiliated with the Islamic Courts Union are taking power from clan-based secular warlords. The warlords are blamed for dragging the war-torn nation into a state of lawlessness that has lasted nearly 16 years.

After nearly four months of fighting the warlords, the Islamist militia say they are winning and are in control of the capital, Mogadishu. The Islamic Courts Union says it has met with Cabinet ministers and parliamentarians of Somalia's U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government in an effort to bring stability to the nation.

But the Islamic Courts Union is accused of harboring al Qaeda members by critics who claim the group is seeking to set up a strict Islamic state. Islamic Courts Union Chairman Sheikh Sharif Ahmed spoke by phone to CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh in Nairobi.

MARSH: I'm holding a communication from the Somalia Transitional Federal Government that states it will allow foreign peacekeeping troops to come into Somalia, as long as those troops do not come from countries neighboring Somalia. Is that acceptable?

AHMED: Our position is that we don't need any foreign troops in Somalia. At the moment and even in the future, the Somalia problem can be solved by us. We can negotiate and come up with a solution. The troops from neighboring countries we don't accept, and we don't accept troops from Western countries.

MARSH: That sounds like a sticking point -- the Somalia Transitional Federal Government wants peacekeeping troops and Islamic Courts Union doesn't want troops. ... Does that mean the ICU will break off negotiations with the Transitional Federal Government on this issue?

AHMED: Yes, this can bring some tension. We've been trying to meet with the government representative to come and talk about peace, and the government officials insist on bringing the troops. Our goal is Somali issues need to be solved by Somalis, and troops are no longer accepted in Somalia. If the transitional government insists on bringing the troops, then that's not a good sign.

MARSH: Not a good sign, meaning what?

AHMED: This will further destabilize the fragile peace process in Mogadishu. The people generally do not accept the foreign troops. ... The whole issue is politically motivated. The best thing is to come together and solve our problems.

MARSH: How do you respond to people who say the ICU is only interested in meeting with the TFG [in order] to be considered legitimate by the international community?

AHMED: The purpose of our meeting with [the Transitional Federal Government] is not the way you portray it. ... As you know, Somalia has been without government for 15 years now. The purpose is for us to get together and solve our problem, not to please the international community.

MARSH: You talk of negotiations with the Transitional Federal Government. What kind of rebuilding of the Somali government do you want to see? What kind of power sharing you want to see? Does the ICU expect the TFG to give up positions to ICU members?

AHMED: At the moment, we are not interested in power. All we are interested in is how to solve our problem. ... At the moment we are not concerned with power sharing.

MARSH: It has been widely reported that the United States accuses your organization of being sympathetic to al Qaeda, or even harboring fugitives. Do you believe that to be true?

AHMED: As far as we are concerned, there are no al Qaeda or terrorists in our group. We believe that America has a hidden agenda in Somalia. We need to trust each other. America needs to believe that we came into power because people were in a vacuum of leadership and [that] there are no terrorists in our group.

MARSH: So you are saying there are no al Qaeda suspects in your group? That your organization knows nothing about the whereabouts of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed [accused in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998] or Saleh Ali Saleh [wanted in connection with the 2002 simultaneous attacks on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, and Israeli airliner taking off from Mombasa]? Both are said to be fugitives in Somalia.

AHMED: Those people that you mention, Somalia is a big place, as far as I am concerned, we don't have them, those people.

MARSH: A lot of people are curious as to how the Islamic Courts Union is financed. For example, some people are asking if you are getting any financing from Gulf Arab states. Can you tell me more about that please?

AHMED: The issue of receiving finance from the Middle East countries is not true. ... Basically, we receive our finance from contributions from Somalia business people. People who support our agenda, people who are working, and support us. ...

Our course in solving the Somalia problem and bringing peace to this vacuum of leadership ... the people are fed up with this kind of life. That is why they are supporting us with funds with advice us for anything that is important to succeeding our quest.

MARSH: What can you tell us about some of these reports that since the Islamic Courts Union has come to power, specifically in Mogadishu, there has been no more music, no more dancing, movie theaters have been shut down, televisions showing World Cup games unplugged. Any truth to that?

AHMED: The issue of the shutting down the World Cup and stuff like that is not true. ... It has nothing to do with our Islamic things or imposing our laws. Everybody is free to watch what is going on around the world. The soccer thing has nothing to do with our policies.

MARSH: It is understood that many of the remaining warlords are in Jowhar, south of Mogadishu. We've been reading about Islamic Courts Union militia moving toward the Jowhar area. What is happening on that front?

AHMED: The warlords who have moved there, they are trying to work out some action plan. ... They want to attack us. We are taking every precaution to get our security ... prepared for anything that might come.

MARSH: Can we expect an Islamic Courts Union offensive on Jowhar?

AHMED: We have no plan of attacking Jowhar.

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