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Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2007, 12:54 GMT
Somalia's moderate Islamist leader
It was the abduction of one of his 12-year-old pupils that prompted Somali schoolteacher Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to take a stand against the warlords who had ruled the capital, Mogadishu for the last 16 years.

Islamic courts chairman Sharif Sheikh Ahmed
Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is the moderate chairman of the courts
He helped found the Islamic courts, which rose to take control of the capital and large parts of south and central Somalia for the past six months until being driven out last December.

He surrendered to Kenyan security forces three weeks after his group was routed from Somalia by government troops backed by Ethiopia.

When the boy, Abdulkadir, was kidnapped in 2003, amid a wave of abductions in Mogadishu, the freelance gangs who abducted him asked his parents for a huge ransom.

Mr Ahmed was disturbed by the fact that the kidnapping took place in the CC area dominated by his own clan.

Release

Mr Ahmed started campaigning within his own people in CC, where with the help of the local community, they finally managed to establish an Islamic court after three days of meetings. He was elected chairman.

The court subsequently secured the release of young Abdulkadir and other abductees, as well as several looted vehicles.

Women in veils holding the Koran
Many Somalis have turned to Islam during the years of anarchy

Once the CC Islamic Court was up and running, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and others began campaigning to fight the general banditry which was prevalent throughout the capital.

The then five Islamic courts united and he was chosen to become the chairman of the Union of Islamic Courts.

Mr Ahmed studied geography and Arabic at Sudan's Kurdufan University at Dalanji in the mid-1980s.

He returned home to Jowhar in 2002, at a time when Abdulkassim Salad Hassan's government was trying to establish control of Mogadishu.

He worked with Mohamed Dhere, the warlord and his fellow clansman who was then in charge of Jowhar, against Mr Hassan.

Mr Ahmed became chairman of the regional court in Jowhar but the alliance with Mr Dhere did not last long and he fled Jowhar for Mogadishu where he started teaching at Jubba Secondary school.

Islamist divide

During the six months they controlled Mogadishu, the Islamic courts were divided between moderates and hardliners, with Mr Ahmed viewed as the moderate leader.

Before the end of Islamist rule, the hardliners seemed to have gained the upper hand and Mr Ahmed also toughened his rhetoric, especially over the presence of Ethiopian troops alongside government forces.

At one point, he declared a Jihad (holy war) against Ethiopia and urged all Somalis to join the battle.

A few weeks later, however, he was on the run before giving himself up to the Kenyans.

Nevertheless, the US and the UN are urging the government to seek reconciliation with moderates such as Mr Ahmed.




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