Somali rebel boss Aweys alive, denies injuries

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A Somali Islamist rebel leader on US and UN terrorism lists denies 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 this morning.

A family member and a militia opposed to Aweys and his Islamist insurgent group Hizbul Islam said yesterday the rebel leader 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 neighbours 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 rumours 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.