Hardline Islamist opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys returned to Somalia on Thursday in his first known trip back to the Horn of Africa nation since being ousted two years ago, an Islamist group said.

hardlineAweys, who is on the U.S. list of terrorism suspects for alleged links to al Qaeda, has been an important opposition lightening rod and is believed to have much influence over some of the Islamist insurgents battling the Somali government. “(Aweys) will be staying with us, and we shall be having discussions on the current political situation in Somalia,” said Omar Abubukar, leader of Hizbul Islam.

Aweys landed at a small airstrip 50 km (30 miles) from the capital Mogadishu, witnesses said. Abubukar did not say how long Aweys would stay in Somalia. Hizbul Islam is an umbrella group of four organisations including the one that Aweys heads. Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Aweys — who has been living in Eritrea — denies any terrorism links. The cleric heads the Asmara-based Alliance for the Re-Liberation (ARS) of Somalia, which he took over from current Somali president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. Aweys and Ahmed had worked alongside one another in the Islamic Courts Union that ruled Somalia’s capital and much of the south before being forced out by Ethiopia in late 2006.



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