The leaders of Somalia’s two Islamist movements met for talks aimed at joining forces against the Western-backed government they are fighting to overthrow, officials said Saturday.
Abdi Mohamud Godane, also known as Abu-Zubeyr, the leader of the Al-Qaeda inspired Shebab group held talks with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the head of the more political Hezb al-Islam militants in Mogadishu Friday.
The two hardline groups controlling much of the lawless country have been drawn apart in recent months and have repeatedly waged turf wars.
“The two leaders… met yesterday and discussed a broad unity agreement in order to launch a big offensive against the African invaders and their apostate government,” a senior Shebab official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“Abu-Zubeyr and Sheikh Aweys will reach their final agreement to bring fighters from both groups in the same barracks in the coming days so as to eliminate the enemy of Allah from the country,” the official said.
Earlier this week, the Shebab militants vowed to step up attacks against the African Union peacekeepers protecting the fragile government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed whose control of Mogadishu they have reduced to a few streets.
The recent moves by the hardline militants are in response to a pledge by a regional bloc to send 2,000 more soldiers to the Horn of Africa country to boost the AU peacekeepers’ strength to the required 8,100 troops.
A Hezb al-Islam official confirmed the meeting by the two Islamist leaders.
“The leaders of the two groups met and the result will be large offensives to eradicate the invading forces from the country,” said Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim.
It was however unclear when the planned offensive would begin. Earlier this year, the government announced a wide onslaught to uproot the Islamists from Mogadishu, but the plan failed to materialise.
Other Islamist officials said foreign fighters attended Friday’s meeting but declined to give details.
“I cannot tell you how many they were because the meeting was behind closed doors, but some Al-Qaeda foreign fighters were present to give advice on the importance of unity between the two groups,” said an Islamist official who refused to be named.
“They were mediating between the two groups,” he added.
Published: July 11, 2010