The Rise & Fall of Somalia’s Islamic Courts: An Online History

The Somalia Battlefield December 25, 2006 to January 3, 2007.
Light blue – Ethiopian & TFG advances.
Green – ICU territory.
Orange – recent clashes.
Click image to view.

Click the map for an animated view of the TFG and Ethiopian operations against the Islamic Courts from December 25 to January 3

The Islamic Courts Courts rise to power mirrored that of Afghanistan’s Taliban in the 1990s, as was their fall. Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is wanted by the U.S. government for involvement of al Qaeda, and his allies shrewdly co-opted indigenous Islamist movements under the guise of restoring order to Somalia. Aweys’ ties to Somali terror goes back to the early 1990s, where he was part of the al Qaeda backed Union of Islam (al-Ittihad al-Islamiya), the predecessor of the Islamic Courts Union (al-Ittihad Mahakem al-Islamiya).

To counter al Qaeda’s growing influence in the Horn of Africa, the United States backed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT), a grouping of secular warlords. After a series of skirmishes, the alliance was defeated by June of 2006.

The Islamic Courts confiscated the warlords’ weapons systems and integrated the militias into their own. The Islamic Courts proceeded to take the capital of Mogadishu, then expanded its power throughout central and southern Somalia, save the town of Baidoa and some territory west, where the Transitional Federal Government holed up, backed by the Ethiopian Army.

Over the course of the summer and fall of 2006, The Islamic Courts consolidated its power in central and southern Somalia. It began to impose a strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, and shut down movie theaters, viewing centers for soccer matches and co-ed events such as sports. Cigarettes, alcohol and khat, the popular leafy narcotic chewed by Somalis, were banned.

The Islamic Courts attempted to intimidate, isolate and surround the Transitional Federal Government in Baidoa. As ‘peace negotiations’ between the Islamic Courts and the TFG were held, the ICU continually violated the cease-fire and conquered territory. The Islamic Courts initiated two suicide car attacks in Baidoa. It pushed northward into the semi-autonomous state of Puntland. Several Ethiopian armored convoys heading to Baidoa were destroyed in sophisticated ambushes.

ahmed and indohaadde.jpg

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Sheik Yusuf Indohaadde during a news briefing, Saturday, June 17, 2006. AP photograph, click to view.

All the while, the Islamic Courts continued to receive morale and physical support from al Qaeda, Iran and Hezbollah. Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other senior al Qaeda leaders praised the “Somali Jihad” in video and audiotapes. al Qaeda media outlets produced propaganda in Somali and Arabic, with video of Arab and Somali jihadis training and fighting side by side. Hundreds of millions of dollars were funneled into the Islamic Courts coffers by backers on the Arabian Peninsula. Foreign fighters flooded into Somalia, some estimates put the number at over 3,000. Iran provided arms, while Hezbollah provided training for Somali Islamists.

The Somali crisis came to a head in December, after multiple Islamic Courts leaders openly called for Jihad against Ethiopian. Hassan Dahir Aweys, the al Qaeda connected leader of the Islamic Courts, called for a “Greater Somalia” to be carved out of the Horn of Africa.

Open, conventional warfare broke out between the Islamic Courts and the TFG and Ethiopian forces towards the end of December. Fighting was reported as intense, with hundreds of casualties on both sides. After several days of deadlock around Baidoa, Ethiopian armored columns, backed by air and artillery support, punched through and took Mogadishu, while the ICU forces engaged in Puntland were defeated. The Ethiopians then pivoted their columns and headed south. By New Years Day, the Islamic Courts abandoned Kismayo, the strategic southern port city and final stronghold of the ICU. The Ethiopians are reported to have executed foreign prisoners in the field and the ICU is said to have taken thousands of casualties.

The fight is far from over. The Islamic Courts have indicated they will conduct an insurgency, and many of their fighters and all of their leaders are still unnaccounted for. Kenya has closed the southern border,theUnited States Navy is blockading the Somali coast and Ethiopian forces are conducting operations along the Kenyan border. The Somali government is now left with the diffiicult task of restoring order to a war torn country that hasn’t had a functional government in over 16 years.

Below is a timeline of the Rise and fall of the Islamic Courts, from June 2006 onward.

June 30, 2006

Excerpts from the Osama bin Laden Tape

Osama gives a nod to the Islamic Courts in his speech

July 2, 2006

Somalia’s Terror Camps

The Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism fails, Aweys named leader of the ICU, 17 terrorist training camps are in operation; Ethiopian Army moves to Baidoa

Islamic Court Militia cheers during the handing over of weapons by the rivall militia in Mogadishu, Thursday, July 13, 2006. (AP Photo / Mohamed Sheikh Nor.) Click image to view.

July 3, 2006

ICU attempts to distance itself from bin Laden; Ethiopia Army pushes into central Somalia

Sharrif claims bin Laden tape not directed at ICU, IGAD considers deployment to support the interim government

July 5, 2006

al Qaeda in Somalia; U.S. failed to act in 2002

ICU leader seen on video with al Qaeda fighters, U.S. plan to deal with Somalia not executed

July 10, 2006

Fighting resumes in Mogadishu; Shariah Law enforced

ICU further consolidates power, meets out punishment for violation of Shariah

August 23, 2006

Islamic Courts Consolidates Power in Somalia

ICU moves in port cities, money is being funneled from the Arabian peninsula

September 18, 2006

Suicide Strikes in Somalia

The first suicide bomber in Somalia targets transitional president and parliament as Somalia slides further into the hands of the al Qaeda backed Islamic Courts

September 25, 2006

The Fall of Kismayo

The strategic southern port city of Kismayo is taken by the Islamic Courts, Baidoa is now in the crosshairs

September 27, 2006

Somalia’s Foreign Fighters

Sheikh Hassan Turki flaunts the involvement of “foreign fighters” in Somalia as Shariah law is enforced in Kismayo

October 9, 2006

The Advance of Somalia’s Islamic Courts

Islamic Courts, Ethiopian troops dance in south central Somalia

October 14, 2006

Somalia’s Islamic Courts Defends Kismayo

Islamic Courts repulse an attack on Kismayo, continues to consolidate gains

October 21, 2006

A New Terrorist Haven

The frightening advance of Islamists in Somalia (in The Weekly Standard)

October 24, 2006

The Impending Baidoa Showdown

The Islamic Courts and the transitional government are due to clash in central Somalia

November 3, 2006

The Somalia Showdown

All out war between the Islamic Courts and the Somali government is expected shortly; The ICU is also planning international terrorist attacks against the government’s foreign assets.

November 7, 2006

Islamic Courts, Puntland forces Battle in Central Somalia

Puntland takes a preemptive shot at the Islamic Courts units moving northward

November 12, 2006

Puntland, Somalia Clash south of Galkayo; Iran’s HandFighting breaks out in Puntland; Iran supplies weapons and other support to the Islamic Courts

November 14, 2006

Iran’s Involvement in Somalia, with al Qaeda

Iran seeks uranium in exchange for training, weapons. Somali Islamists fought with Hezbollah in Lebanon against Israel. Saif al-Adel is plotting against the West with the help of the IRGC.

November 16, 2006

The Somali Jihad

al Qaeda Fights for Control of Somalia – an interview with CBN

November 20, 2006

Ethiopian Convoy Ambushed in Aweys’ “Greater Somalia”

Islamic Courts attacks an Ethiopian military convoy; Aweys calls for a “Greater Somalia” in the Horn of Africa

November 21, 2006

Islamic Courts on the Offensive

Two more Ethiopian armored vehicles destroyed, ICU engages TFG outside Baidoa, captured border town

December 2, 2006

Somalia’s Second Suicide Bombing

Islamic Courts attack a checkpoint outside Baidoa; al-Fajr releases “Apostate Hell in Somalia,” praise Osama bin Laden

December 4, 2006

“Apostate Hell in Somalia”

An analysis of an al Qaeda produced video on Somalia’s Islamic Courts

December 23, 2006

The Battle of Baidoa

The final showdown is taking place in Somalia between the Islamic Courts Union, backed by al Qaeda, and the Transitional Federal Government, backed by Ethiopia

December 24, 2006

The Battle of Somalia

The ICU attacks in Puntland and claims to have advanced to 7 miles from Baidoa, the Ethiopians strike in Beletweyn

December 25, 2006

The TFG and Ethiopia Punch back in Somalia

The Islamic Courts has lost strategic territory as the Ethiopian Army and Transitional Federal Government marches towards Mogadishu

December 26, 2006

Islamic Courts in Retreat in Somalia

Ethiopian and TFG forces take Dinsoor, Burhakaba; ICU indicated it is planning an insurgency

December 27, 2006

The Fall of the Islamic CourtsAweys, Sharif, resign; the TFG and Ethiopian forces are on the outskirts of Mogadishu

December 28, 2006

The Islamic Courts Abandons Mogadishu

ICU leaders flee to unknown location; Ethiopian and TFG troops enter the capital

December 29, 2006

Martial Law in Somalia, Ethiopian forces mass south of Mogadishu

Islamic Courts massing in Kismayo; ICU fighters to be pardoned; Ethiopians indicated they will stay

December 30, 2006

Countdown to Kismayo

The Islamic Courts are massing in the south in Kismayo and Ras Kamboni; The Ethiopians are heading southward

January 1, 2007

The Islamic Courts Abandons Kismayo

Mutinies, defections in the Islamic Courts after a brief battle north of Kismayo

January 2, 2007

Pursuing the Islamic Courts

Islamic Courts leadership unaccounted for; foreign fighters captured fleeing to Kenya

January 3, 2007

Hunting the Islamic Courts on the Kenyan BorderIslamic Courts spokesman claims its leaders are still in country

January 4, 2007

Engaging the Islamic Courts at Ras Kamboni

Ethiopian and Somali forces battle Islamic Courts remnants on the Kenyan border

January 6, 2007

al Qaeda, Islamic Courts gather the new Somali Jihad

Zawahiri, Islamist Courts lay the groundwork for the insurgency

January 8, 2007

The Battle of Ras Kamboni

Heavy casualties reported after days of fighting on the Kenyan border

January 8, 2007

U.S. Gunship fires on al Qaeda Leader and Operative in Somalia

An AC-130 fires on wanted al Qaeda leader and a ringeader of the 1998 U.S. Embasy bombings in Kenya & Tanzania

January 8, 2007

U.S. Helicopters Pound al Qaeda Targets in Southern Somalia

U.S. conducts second overt strike in Somalia, USS Eisenhower on station

January 16, 2007:

The Fall of Ras Kamboni

An unnamed senior Islamic Courts leader is captured in Kenya after Ras Kamboni is taken following five days of heavy fighting

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • OregonGuy says:

    The BBC this morning: (paraphrasing)(but not much)
    “The Islamic Courts brought stability to Somalia. Something Ethiopa and the USA don’t want.”
    I can imagine sixty-years earlier…”Herr Hitler has brought stability to Germany, something France and Great Britain don’t want”.
    I believe the BBC needs a threat analysis project.

  • LUCAS WILLEN says:

    I definately agree.
    The BBC holds a well known anti war bias. Essentiially the BBC appear to be pandering to Political Correctness (i.e. we must not upset any of the Muslims, even those that want to kill us)
    Not all Muslims are terrorists or extremists, just as not all Germans in World War 2 agreed with Hitler or with his decision to go to war.
    However, I gave up on the BBC as a source of unbiased newa a long time ago. The same goes for the Gaurdian.

  • Gerry says:

    The military execution of a three prong attack over several hundred miles through numerous towns and cities with tanks and APCs was well coordinated and rapid. The Ethiopeans should be proud of thier military and the Generals in charge. It was no small feat

  • Matthew says:

    Without meaning to be snarky Gerry, the same could be said about the US military in April 2003. The important thing now is that the Ethiopians and Somalis win the peace.
    Good series of posts Bill as always.

  • Jabba the Tutt says:

    Lucas Willen: The BBC holds a well known anti war bias.
    The BBC isn’t ‘anti war’, they’re anti-UK/US victory in war. When do they criticize terrorists? When do they fulminate about other wars going on in the war? Congo? Chechnya? Thailand? Philipines? Dafur? Nigeria?
    For the BBC and other ‘progressives’, the non-Westerners are sub-human and therefore, the superior progressive does not hold the wogs to any standard of human decency and civilization. This is wrapped up in a perverted coating of self-proclaimed moral superiority.
    We need to come up with another label for the BBC, Cindy Sheehan, the PC anti-civilization folks. “Anti-Western Civilization” is too unwieldy. Any suggestions?

  • Somalia Watch: United States Launching New Attacks Against Al Qaeda in Somalia

    AP: U.S. launches new attacks in Somalia
    A Somali official says U.S. helicopter gunships have launched new attacks against suspected al-Qaida terrorists. An earlier U.S. airstrike hit targets in southern Somalia where Islamic militants were believed …

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