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World News

FACTBOX: Facts about Somali opposition leader Aweys

(Reuters) - Somali Islamist rebel leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys was seriously injured in fighting between rival Islamist groups and may be dead, a family member and a militia opposed to him said on Sunday.

Here are some facts about Aweys, an influential figure among insurgents in Somalia where he has headed numerous Islamist groups since the 1990s:

* The 62-year-old bespectacled cleric was born on the outskirts of Dhusamareb town in the Galguduud region of central Somalia. He is part of the Ayr wing of the Habr Gedir, a major sub-clan of the Hawiye.

* Aweys went to secondary school in Mogadishu. In 1972, he joined dictator Mohamed Siad Barre’s army and graduated from General Daud military academy. Aweys rose to the rank of colonel and was decorated with a silver medal for bravery in a war against Ethiopia in 1977.

* In the 1990s, Aweys was vice chairman and military commander for al-Ittihad al-Islami, which at the time was Somalia’s largest militant Islamist group. He was defeated in battles against Ethiopia and Somali warlords backed by Addis Ababa.

* Aweys is among individuals or entities the United States “linked to terrorism” shortly after the September 11 attacks. The United Nations has him on a list of people “belonging to or associated with” al Qaeda. Washington has ruled out contact with Aweys, who denies al Qaeda links.

* President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who led the Islamic Courts Union with Aweys before Ethiopian troops expelled them from Mogadishu in late 2006, wants him taken off those lists. Aweys founded the al Shabaab, a militant Islamist group and the armed wing of the sharia courts movement.

* Aweys is a close friend of Sheikh Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki, who, intelligence sources say, leads the Somali wing of the al-Takfir wal-Hijra -- an international Islamist group linked to extremism. Aweys also mentored the former head of the al Shabaab, Aden Hashi Ayro, who was killed in a U.S. air strike in May 2008 and was also accused of al Qaeda links.

* After Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia, Aweys went underground and kept a low profile until publicly re-surfacing in Eritrea at a Somali opposition conference in September 2007. Initially, he was not part of the leadership of the Asmara-based Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), but took over after the former head, Ahmed, broke away and became the interim government’s president. Aweys returned to Somalia in April on his first known trip back to the Horn of Africa nation.

SOURCES: Aweys, Reuters, experts.

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