NAIROBI, Kenya – The newly appointed leader of Somalia's Islamic militia — a man the U.S. suspects of collaborating with Al Qaeda terrorists — said Monday he will only support a government based on Islam.
"Somalia is a Muslim nation and its people are also Muslim, 100 percent," Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, his first comments to the media since being named head of the Islamic militia over the weekend.
"Therefore any government we agree on would be based on the holy Quran and the teachings of our Prophet Muhammad," he said from his home in central Somalia.
Aweys was appointed leader of Somalia's Islamic militia Saturday, replacing a more moderate cleric who had agreed to negotiate with the country's largely powerless interim government. The government's constitution makes no reference to Islam.
But Aweys said Somalis want an Islamic state, and he will raise the topic when he meets with government leaders next month.
"Somalis always wanted to act on Islam but the former colonial powers diverted them from that. I hope now the only option open for them is to support an Islamic state," he said.
The Islamic militia, which changed its name over the weekend from the Islamic Courts Union to the Somali Supreme Islamic Courts Council, seized control of the capital and much of southern Somalia after driving out an alliance of U.S.-backed secular warlords earlier this month.
The appointment of Aweys is likely to stoke Washington's long-standing fears that this nation will become a haven for Osama bin Laden's terror network, much like Afghanistan did in the 1990s.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Washington released a list of individuals and organizations accused of being tied to terrorism. Aweys and a Somali group he founded called al-Itihaad al-Islaami were listed for their alleged links to bin Laden while he was living in Sudan in the early 1990s.
Aweys, a cleric believed to be in his 60s, told the AP in past interviews that al-Itihaad no longer existed and said he had no ties to Al Qaeda. He went into hiding following the Sept. 11 attacks and re-emerged only in August 2005, when he helped establish the Islamic militia.