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Profile: Islamic Courts Union
Islamic Courts Union was a participant or observer in the following events:
A map of the 2006 advance of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia. [Source: Public domain / James Dahl]In late July 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militant group, conquers the Somali capital of Mogadishu. Somalia has long been divided by various warlords and factions, but the ICU soon takes over much of the country. Within days of taking Mogadishu, a number of large Russian-made cargo planes begin landing in Mogadishu’s newly reopened airport, bringing in weapons for the ICU. US military officials order an investigation as to who is supplying the ICU, and within weeks US intelligence concludes that the planes are owned by companies linked to Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer. Soon, intelligence confirms that Bout is working closely not only with Islamist militias in Somalia, but also their allies in nearby Eritrea. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 254-255] The ICU will lose control of Mogadishu and much of Somalia in December 2006 after Ethiopia invades the country (see December 24, 2006-January 2007), but the group continues fighting. Bout’s flights will continue into 2007. In July 2007, a Sunday Times reporter posing as a middleman for the ICU will arrange an arms deal with Alexander Radionov, who runs a front company linked to Bout. Had the reporter paid, Radionov would have parachuted eight tons of ammunition into Somalia. [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] Bout had previously worked with other al-Qaeda linked Islamist groups, including the Taliban (see Summer 2002), but he has also been supplying the US military in Iraq since war began there in 2003 (see Late April 2003).
On December 24, 2006, Ethiopia invades Somalia with US encouragement, attacking the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militant group that rules much of the country. The invasion is triggered because the ICU had encircled the Somali town of Baidoa, the last hold out of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the internationally recognized government of Somalia that actually controls very little of the country. Within days, the Ethiopians conquer the capital of Mogadishu and replace the ICU with the TFG. But Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia, occupying much of the country, and the ICU and other Islamist militant groups are not completely defeated. On January 5, 2007, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a message urging Somalis to “consume” the “crusader” Ethiopians “as the lions eat their prey.” [Time, 11/29/2007] The US had been quietly improving ties with Ethiopia, and had been secretly training Ethiopian forces in counterterrorism techniques for years. The US covertly assists Ethiopia’s invasion with spy satellite data and other intelligence. A secret US special forces unit, Task Force 88, launches operations into Somalia from Kenya and Ethiopia. On January 6, two US Air Force AC-130 gunships secretly arrive at a small airport in eastern Ethiopia. The next day, they carry out a strike near a small village close to the Kenyan border, attempting to kill al-Qaeda-linked militants fleeing the country. Eight people are killed, but apparently no important al-Qaeda leaders. [New York Times, 2/23/2007] A second AC-130 strike on January 23 also misses its target. It is unknown how many are killed, but the wreckage of six large trucks is later seen at the spot of the attack. But while the US strikes are unsuccessful, al-Qaeda leader Abu Talha al-Sudani is apparently killed at some point during the fighting between Ethiopian forces and Somali militants. The US will not officially say he is dead, but US officials will unofficially say he is to Time magazine later in the year. Al-Sudani is said to have been living in Somalia since 1993 and involved in al-Qaeda attacks in Kenya in 1998 and 2002. [Washington Post, 1/8/2007; Time, 11/29/2007] By summer 2007, US and Ethiopian officials will claim that the war in Somalia is over. However, the fighting, the occasional US strikes, and the Ethiopian occupation, continue. [Time, 11/29/2007]
Aden Hashi Ayro. [Source: Intelcenter / Associated Press]A US missile strike kills Aden Hashi Ayro, the alleged head of al-Qaeda’s operations in Somalia. Ayro and up to ten others are killed in the region of Dusamareeb, an area a few hundred miles north of the capital of Mogadishu. The strike is said to be the fifth US attack in Somalia since Ethiopia invaded Somalia in December 2006 with US support (see December 24, 2006-January 2007). Ayro is said to have attended an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. Then he returned to Somalia in 2003 and quickly rose up the ranks of al-Shabab, the military arm of the Islamic Court Union. He is said to be in charge of al-Qaeda’s operations there, although he is not a formal member of al-Qaeda. He was reportedly behind the scattered deaths of some foreigners in Somalia between 2003 and 2005. But despite this death, in recent months militant groups such as al-Shabab have been gaining ground against Somalia’s weak transitional government and the occupying Ethiopian troops keeping it in power. [Washington Post, 5/1/2008; Time, 5/2/2008]
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