Moderate Islamic Courts official is questioned in Kenya


January 23, 2007|By Los Angeles Times

NAIROBI, Kenya -- A fugitive Islamist leader praised recently by the U.S. government as a moderate who could bring much-needed public support to Somalia's transitional government has turned himself over to Kenyan authorities, U.S. officials said yesterday.

Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a former teacher who rose to become chairman of the executive council of Somalia's Islamic Courts Union, is being held for questioning at a posh Nairobi hotel, the officials said.

Ahmed, who functioned as de facto president of the courts, surrendered to Kenyan police Sunday at the border city of Liboi, where thousands of Somalis have been waiting to enter refugee camps. Kenyan forces sealed the border to search for fleeing Islamic fighters.

Although he has been condemned by the United States for alleged links to terrorists, Ahmed is seen by many as a possible bridge to resolving differences between the transitional government, which is still fighting for legitimacy, and Islamic courts, which won public respect for restoring security to Mogadishu after years of warlords and clan fighting.

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