Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys: Al-Shabab leader questioned

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys boards a plane in Adado with Somali government soldiers, 29 June Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys was seen boarding a plane in northern Somalia on Saturday with Somali government soldiers

A top Somali Islamist, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, has been transferred under armed guard from the airport in the capital Mogadishu following his arrival there on Saturday.

He is now being questioned at a government intelligence base.

He was moved after a fight broke out between government officials, members of the security forces and clan elders over what to do with him.

He has been designated a terrorist by the UN and the US.

He was held after fleeing fighting between factions of the Islamist group, al-Shabab, amid reports of a split in the group.

A delegation that accompanied Hassan Dahir Aweys from central Somalia has accused the government of reneging on a promise to grant him an amnesty.

Map

The Somali government has made no official comment.

On Saturday, Sheikh Aweys was flown from the northern town of Adado, escorted by government security forces, but it was unclear whether he had surrendered or defected.

The United Nations says he gave himself up to government allies after infighting, but clan elders deny this.

Regarded as the elder statesman of Somali Islamists, he has been on a US list of people "linked to terrorism" since shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

A new UN-backed government in Mogadishu is trying to regain control of the country from al-Shabab after more than 20 years of conflict.

Supported by some 18,000 African Union soldiers, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's administration is the first in more than two decades to be recognised by the US and the International Monetary Fund.

Al-Shabab, which means "The Youth", is fighting to create an Islamic state in Somalia - and despite being pushed out of key cities in the past two years still remains in control of smaller towns and large swathes of the countryside.

The exact cause of the al-Shabab split is not known, but there has been a long-running internal power struggle between its leader Ahmed Abdi Godane and those seen as more moderate who oppose links with al-Qaeda, analysts say.

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