June 8, 2009 / 10:49 AM / 10 years ago

Somali rebel boss Aweys alive, denies injuries

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A Somali Islamist rebel leader on U.S. and U.N. terrorism lists denied on Monday reports that he had been seriously wounded in fighting between rival Islamist groups in the Horn of Africa nation.

“You see that I am physically healthy and fit. No injuries at all. That is propaganda spread by the enemy when they were defeated in the recent fighting in central Somalia,” Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys told Reuters in Mogadishu.

A family member and a militia opposed to Aweys and his Islamist insurgent group Hizbul Islam said on Sunday the rebel leader he had been seriously wounded, or killed.

Aweys, who Western security services say is close to al Qaeda, is a father figure to the insurgents in Somalia, where he has headed various Islamist groups since the 1990s.

An Islamist insurgency since early 2007, the latest cycle in 19 years of conflict in the Horn of Africa nation, has killed around 18,000 civilians and thousands more fighters.

It has also drawn foreign jihadists into Somalia, enabled piracy to flourish offshore and unsettled the whole of East Africa, with neighbors Kenya and Ethiopia on high alert.

The government-allied moderate Islamist militia Ahla Sunna Waljamaca said its fighters shot Aweys during battles in Wabho town on Friday, and that he died of wounds later.

There were also rumors among militia fighters that another rebel leader, Sheikh Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki, was among the 123 combatants who died in the fighting around Wabho.

Editing by David Clarke

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