Islamic Courts Union

Formed2000
DisbandedJanuary 2007
First AttackSeptember 18, 2006: The ICU was allegedly behind two suicide car attacks in Baidoa, the base of the TFG. President Abdulahi Yusuf escaped the attacks but his younger brother and others died (12 killed, 10 wounded). [1]
Last AttackMarch 21, 2007: Violent clashes between ICU and Ethiopian troops erupted in the streets of Mogadishu. Bodies of Ethiopian troops were desecrated, set on fire and dragged through the streets (13 killed). [2]
UpdatedJuly 18, 2012

Narrative Summary

The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) formed in 2000 from 11 autonomous courts that worked to bring order to Somalia in a power vacuum created by the ousting of former leader Siad Barre in 1991 and the collapse of the AIAI by Ethiopian forces in 1997. The first court was founded in Mogadishu in 1993 under Sheikh Ali Dheere. Up until 2000, the 11 courts operated separately and each court's jurisdiction was limited to a specific neighborhood. [3] In 2000, the courts unified to form the ICU in an attempt to enforce decision-making across clan lines rather than just within clans. [4] Former Somali Armed Force Colonel Sheikh Dahir Aweys and Sheikh Ali Dheere led the Shariah Implementation Council, responsible for unifying the courts and their consolidation under Islamic law. [5] 


Together the Islamic Courts fought robbery, drugs, banned films they deemed inappropriate, and tackled major crimes in north Mogadishu.[6] Although the courts claimed to be a unifying factor for Somalia that valued Islam over clan allegiance, the Hawiye clan ruled 10 of the 11 courts. The ICU attempted to overcome this challenge by having each court try members of their own sub-clan. 

In 2006, the ICU took over control of Mogadishu and unified it for the first time in 16 years. By October 2006, the group reigned over the majority of Southern Somalia and fought against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) created in 2004. [7] The Arab League attempted to reconcile differences between the Ethiopian-backed TFG and the ICU, but negotiations held in Khartoum failed and Ethiopia invaded Somalia in December 2006. [8]  Only nine days after clashes began with the Ethiopian-backed TFG, the ICU surrendered. 

By January 2007 the ICU has effectively been dismembered by the TFG. The Ethiopian military and ICU leaders signed a resignation agreement while ICU members handed over their weapons to pro-TFG clans. [9] While the ICU disintegrated, the court's militant wing, Al-Shabab, continued fighting the TFG and foreign forces. [10]

Leadership

The Islamic Courts Unions is divided into 11 courts. Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was considered a moderate who led the courts to create order in Somalia. He was in his early 30's when the ICU came to power. Ahmed graduated with a law degree from a university in Libya and was a former secondary school geography teacher. [11] In June 2006, Sharrif Sheikh Ahmed was demoted to the post of chairman of the executive committee after more radical leaders usurped control of the movement. {{Rand, "Radical Islam in East Africa," Rand Corporation, 2009. Web. Accessed 9 July 2013. <http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG782.pdfs> Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, former head of the AIAI, replaced Ahmed as leader and led one of the two more militant courts. 

Adan Hashi Aryo was also a former AIAI leader and an Afghan-trained militia commander who led the second militant court. Aryo's militiamen have killed Somali nationals, five foreign aid workers, and BBC producer Kate Peyton. [12] Aryo was charged in a Somaliland court for the murder of four foreign aid workers in 2003. [13] He was also responsible for the desecration of an Italian cemetery in Mogadishu and accused of killing peace activist, Abdulkadi Yahya Ali in 2005. 

Al-Turki was a former AIAI leader and is suspected to have links to Al Qaeda. He was designated as a financer of terrorism under Executive Order 13224.{{Rand, "Radical Islam in East Africa," Rand Corporation, 2009. Web. Accessed 9 July 2013. <http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG782.pdfs>

  1. Fuad Mohammed Kalaf (Unknown to 2007): Education Official.[14]
  2. Adan Hashi Ayro (Unknown to 2008): Leader of Al-Shabab military wing.[15]
  3. Sheikh Ali Dheere (1993 to Unknown): Founder of first court.[16]
  4. Sheikh Ali Dheere (2000 to Unknown): Founder.
  5. Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki, aka Yusuf Indha'adde (2005 to 2006): Responsible for arming the courts, Deputy of the Executive Committee of the Islamic Courts Council, Head of military wing.[17]
  6. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (2006 to 2007): Former leader, Chairman of the Executive Committee.[18]

Ideology & Goals

The ICU claimed that its ultimate goal was to form an Islamic community to unify the country over clan allegiance, which tore the country apart for the previous fifteen years. [19] The group also attempted to unify the Somali diaspora. Leader Sheikh Dahir Aweys stated on Shabelle Radio in 2006, "We will leave no stone unturned to integrate our Somali brothers in Kenya and Ethiopia and restore their freedom to live with their ancestors in Somalia." [20] 


Upon their ascension, the group implemented Shariah law, punishing thieves by cutting off their limbs, and sentencing murderers to death.[21] While some perceived the Courts as a "broad mosque," others described its ideology as political, ranging from Quttubism to Wahabism, and engendering violent rhetoric against the West. [22]

Designated/Listed

The ICU was not designated, though after its collapse its remaining militant wing, Al-Shabab was designated.

Resources

The ICU primarily relied on foreign assistance for its operations. However, according to Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf, the ICU allegedly enjoyed foreign support from radicals in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Arab nations and Europe who made up "a considerable number" of ICU members. He also stated that the ICU received "massive material, financial and military support form international terror networks." [23] 

The ICU was also supported by former AIAI members. For example, former AIAI leader Sheikh Ali Warsame reportedly sent 250,000 USD to the ICU in 2006. [24] 

External Influences

Some analysts believe the ICU was supported by Eritrea as a counterbalance to Ethiopia's support of the TFG. [25] Jendayi Fraser, U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, accused Eritrea of militarily supporting the ICU, citing the presence of Dahir Aweys at a meeting in Asmara as evidence that Eritrea sponsors terrorism. [26]

A report by the Rand Corporation claimed that Dijibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, Lebanese Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia, and Syria had provided weapons, training, and logistical support to the ICU, with Yemen arms-trading networks sending arms almost exclusively to the ICU after its ascension to power. [27] 


Geographical Locations

At its peak, the ICU controlled most of Somalia's strategic points between the south and north such as the port city of Kismayo, Beletuein, Mogadishu, and the UN recognized TFG base in Baidoa. [28]

Overall, the ICU focused its efforts on internal affairs and neighboring areas where Somalis were the predominant group.  The ICU declared war on Ethiopia on October 9, 2006, after accusing Ethiopian troops of targeting Bur Haqaba, a town along the Mogadishu-Baidoa road. [29]  

In contrast to the ICU, Al-Shabab pursued an international agenda. [30]

Targets & Tactics

Shortly after the ICU came to power, Somalia had 16 terrorist training camps, which helped train and staff foreign volunteers. [31]

The ICU used suicide bombings, mortar attacks, ambushes, and shootings to target the Transitional Federal Government.  In addition, the group launched mortar attacks against African Union peacekeepers, Ethiopian troops, and government officials. Such tactics were not endemic to the region and suggest that, "The Islamic Courts were importing tactics from both Al Qaeda and Hezbollah." For example, evidence existed that the explosives used in ICU's first suicide bombing in Baidoa were tested and refined by Al Qaeda and Hezbollah in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon. [32]


Political Activities

The courts began as a judicial system in the 1990s, regulating only civil affairs. However the ICU later transformed into a political apparatus. The 11 courts started validating transactions such as the purchase of houses and cars. They sanctioned weddings and divorces and expanded their authority across Mogadishu. [33] The courts continued to emphasize, however, that they did not want to enter politics, as Sharif Sheikh Ahmed stated, "This body is not a political one. Rather we want to give power back to the Somali people so it can make its own decisions and decide its own destiny."[34] 

However, as the TFG formed in 2004, the ICU "emerged as a major player in Somali politics alongside the TFG, establishing itself as a new reality that controlled Mogadishu and increased its sphere of influence to other areas," secluding the TFG to its small base in Baidoa.[35] 

In a 2006 interview with CNN, the ICU stated it had met with TFG cabinet ministers and parliament members in an effort to "bring stability to the region." However, the ICU admitted that inherent tensions exist between the two groups, since the TFG was backed by foreign troops and the ICU's goal was to expel foreign influence from the region. [36] 

The ICU also attempted to gain control over arms traffic in the region by attacking pirates at the port of Harardheere in August 2006. After the extrication of the ICU from power, piracy increased off the Somali coast with incidents rising from 10 in 2006 to 31 in 2007. [37] 

Major Attacks

  1. September 2006: The ICU killed a thirteen year old boy and wounded others for viewing a soccer match on TV, after which they killed a 65 year old Italian nun and her body guard in retaliation for the Pope's statements on Islam. (3 killed, 3 wounded).[38]
  2. September 18, 2006: The ICU was accused of orchestrating two suicide car attack in Baidoa, the base of the TFG. President Abdulahi Yusuf escaped the attacks but his younger brother and others died. (12 killed, 10 wounded).[39]
  3. November 20, 2006: The ICU claimed responsibility for the ambush of an Ethiopian military column of eighty vehicles with bombs and small arms. (6 killed, 20 wounded).[40]
  4. March 13, 2007: The ICU mortar attacked the presidential palace as President Abdullahi Yusuf was moving in. The President was unharmed but a boy was killed as mortars fell on his house. (1 killed).[41]
  5. March 20, 2007: The ICU organized a strike on the capital seaport as African Union soldiers were securing the area for the arrival of military equipment. A UN convoy was also attacked injuring Somali policemen. (5 killed, 3 wounded ).[42]
  6. March 21, 2007: Violent clashes between ICU and Ethiopian troops erupted in the streets of Mogadishu. Bodies of Ethiopian troops were desecrated, set on fire and dragged through the streets reminiscent of Black Hawk Down in 1993. (13 killed).[43]

Relationships with Other Groups

The ICU opposed the Alliance for the Restoration of Pease and Counter-terrorism (ARPCT). [44] The ARPCT was an alliance of secular warlords. Though it was thought to be backed by the United States as a counterweight to Al Qaeda's growing influence, the ARPCT was defeated in June 2006. [45] The ICU seized hold of the warlord's ammunition and absorbed the militias to take over Mogadishu. [46] 

The ICU maintained an affiliation with Al Qaeda during its existence. The group regularly released propaganda videos through Al Qaeda's media branch. [47] Furthermore, as the ICU rose to power, international jiadhist leaders such as Osama Bin Laden attempted to leverage the nascent Islamic group for its goals. In a tape filmed in 2006, Bin Laden stated, "We will continue, God willing, to fight you and your allies everywhere, in Iraq and Afghanistan and in Somalia and Sudan, until we waste all your money and kill your men, and you will return to your country in defeat as we defeated you before in Somalia," citing a direct reference to the rise of the ICU. The US accused the ICU of sheltering three Al Qaeda operatives that were responsible for the 1998 US embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. These same members are believed to be culprits of the 2002 suicide bombings of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya, along with an attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner that was flying over Kenya. [48]

Community Relationships

The ICU improved security for Somalis compared to the previous chaotic rule of warlords. [49] Because the ICU provided security and stability, the group was supported by the Somali business community [50] and was also popular among many Somali residents who enjoyed ICU-provided education and medicine. [51] Reports stated that the ICU reopened airports and seaports and cleaned up certain cities, which increased the ICU's popularity in the eyes of young boys and refugees that wanted to return to a stable Somalia. Thus, when the Ethiopian government invaded Somalia to topple the ICU, Somali men in the diaspora considered this a threat to Somalia's stability and returned to the country to fight. [52] 

The ICU also enjoyed the legacy of the social infrastructure left behind by the AIAI. As Time explains, "much as Hamas in Gaza or Hizballah in Lebanon, the Islamists spent years winning support among the Somali public by running medical clinics, schools and courts. Ten years on, much of the leaders of the AIAI now help run the Islamic Courts Union." [53] Though not all agreed with Islamic rule, Mogadishu residents claimed they would rather live under Islamic preachers than under warlords who have treated the city as looting grounds. [54] The ICU, however, was repressive in their imposition of Shariah law and their rule is often compared to the rule of the Taliban prior to 2001. 

The ICU forbade music, movies, and the viewing of the World Cup, all of which were deemed as "Western Culture" and could be punished by public execution. [55] Other punishments included cutting off the limbs of petty thieves, decisions that were enforced by the armed militias provided by clans and warlords. [56] The group conducted mass arrests of Somalis for listening to live music at weddings, and arrested a karate instructor and his female students for conducting coed classes. [57]  In addition, the ICU attempted to ban khot, a popular Somali drug, which aroused strong opposition and riots. [58] Such harsh legal implementations eventually led to loss of support among the population.

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