Mogadishu, Somalia The hard-line Muslim leaders who have seized control of much of southern Somalia claimed authority throughout the country Thursday in yet another blow to the largely powerless but internationally recognized interim government.
Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, leader of the militia's executive council, made the claim while officially announcing a restructuring of the powerful Islamic Courts Union. The group has changed its name to the Supreme Islamic Courts Council and added dozens of members who lead Islamic courts throughout Somalia.
The restructuring last weekend also saw Ahmed replaced as the group's overall leader by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is on the U.S. terrorist watch list as a suspected collaborator with al-Qaida.
"We hope this council will be more effective than the one before," said Ahmed, a relatively moderate cleric who had been reaching out to the interim government and the West before he was demoted Saturday night.
The Islamic group's claim of authority throughout the country came a week after it agreed to recognize the interim government and stop all military action - a move that signaled a willingness to accommodate the desires of the international community.