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Militia Imposes Muslim Law in Mogadishu

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

To Africa now, and another company in upheaval: Somalia. The Parliament today approved a foreign peacekeeper mission to help stabilize the country, but that doesn't sit well with the Islamic militias who took control of the capital, Mogadishu, more than a week ago. They drove out secular warlords, who'd ruled for the last 15 years. My colleague, Alex Chadwick, spoke with Journalist Rob Crilly from Mogadishu

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Rob Crilly in Mogadishu, what is it like there? How is the city?

Mr. ROB CRILLY (Reporter, Christian Science Monitor): The city is broken down, as you'd expect after 15 years of war here. The roads have crumbled away to dirt in many places, and many buildings have been reduced to rubble. It really is a city in a mess.

CHADWICK: You've had a meeting and an interview with a man who seems to be charge there, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. He leads something called the Union of Islamic Courts. Who is he? And how does he come to power?

Mr. CRILLY: Well, he's doesn't look like your typical Islamic extremist. He is a young man. He dresses in a western style, and he's certainly a moderate within the union.

CHADWICK: And what does he say his goals are now? What is he going to try to do?

Mr. CRILLY: Well, I mean - certainly for public consumption and for international consumption - he says he has no plans, he has no agenda other than to bring a degree of stability to Mogadishu. Elements within his movement certainly want to set up an Islamic state in Somalia.

CHADWICK: The U.S. says it's concerned that there may be al-Qaida influences in his group. What does he say to that?

Mr. CRILLY: Well, he denies it, absolutely. He says everybody knows everybody else. And if there were foreign jihadis or al-Qaida operatives here, people would know about it. Now, I have to point out among the leaders of his movement, is a man called Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is wanted by the U.S. on terrorism charges.

CHADWICK: Well, these courts have imposed a Sharia, which is a very strict Islamic law. For instance, you reported that in the last month or so, a boy on the streets of Mogadishu had stabbed to death with a knife the man who had been accused of killing his father.

Mr. CRILLY: Yeah, that's right. I mean, the courts are in existence throughout the city and imposing the strict form of Sharia Law. A number of other aspects of Sharia Law are also becoming apparent: the number of cinemas have been shut down here, and they've been accused of showing lewd films. Now, more often than not, these would be movies that we would see at home. So, there is a growing sense with strict form of laws being imposed on the city.

CHADWICK: There is a supposed national government in another town, Baidoa. What is the relationship between this government in Mogadishu and that government?

Mr. CRILLY: Well, the government in Baidoa has very limited control over the country. The emergence of the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu really is a key threat to this transitional government, which was set up with international support - the U.S., the U.N., by regional powers of who supported it. The question really is how these two powers can now form some sort of alliance in order to provide a solution and peace in Somalia.

CHADWICK: Rob Crilly, writing for the Christian Science Monitor and the Times of London from Mogadishu. Rob, thank you.

Mr. CRILLY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.