The Union of Islamic Courts- Somalia’s Taliban
Instead of warlords Somalis have what many are calling an African version of the Taliban, bent not only on imposing a harsh, Wahhabi-style Islam on the country, but allegedly also providing a safe haven for international terrorists. Movies, music and mixed wedding ceremonies have been banned; open-air video parlors showing World Cup matches were shut down.
The union's public face is its chairman Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate who sought to assure Somalis and the international community this week that the Islamic Courts were no threat and only wanted order.
Mr Ahmed, 32, is a law graduate from Libya and former secondary school geography teacher.
But the union does contain radical elements.
Two of the 11 courts are seen as militant; one is led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, on an American list of terrorism suspects because he used to head al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, which was linked to al-Qaeda.
Mr Aweys says al-Itihaad no longer exists and also denies accusations from some western diplomats and observers that there are training grounds for Islamic fighters in Somalia.
He is, however, strongly critical of the United States and its "war on terror".
There is concern that UIC may turn Somalia into a haven for al-Qaeda. Several of its leaders have urged Somalis to launch a jihad against Ethiopian troops deployed in support of the government, as the country slips ever closer to all-out civil war.
Western diplomats are also concerned by Afghanistan-trained militia commander Adan Hashi Ayro, whose militiamen have been implicated in numerous killings of Somali nationals, as well as five foreign aid workers and a BBC producer, Kate Peyton.
Aweys describes Ayro as "a good man" who's never been convicted of a crime. Yet some of his acknowledged exploits have been dubious enough. Last year Ayro and his followers disinterred all the bodies from the colonial-era Italian cemetery in Mogadishu and dumped them in the trash. In their place they set up an Islamic militia training camp. An ICU-made propaganda video titled "Punishment of the Converts," obtained by NEWSWEEK from an Islamic militiaman in Mogadishu, shows the Somali Islamists training in the cemetery, interspersed with speeches from several of the ICU's leading military figures, including a partially masked man who appears to be Ayro, according to Somalis who know him. The dialogue is Pan-Islamic and pro-terrorist; the voice-over features Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. "Every Muslim who is victimized in the world, we are calling him to come here," says one masked Somali fighter. "It will be a safe haven for him." The Islamic militias' internal newspaper, Al Jihad, puts it more bluntly: terrorism extremism and fundamentalism are part of Islam and good.
The UIC have chased out members of the cabinet into the areas outside Mogadishu, accusing them of being Warlords. All members of the Government were warlords at some point; including the leaders of the UIC. One of the so-called warlords defeated by the Jihadist group was the minister in charge of disbanding the militias!