One of Somalia’s most prominent Islamist rebel commanders, arrested by a regional administration, was flown to the capital Mogadishu on Saturday, where he agreed to hold talks with the federal government about his fate, Somali officials said.
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, whose capture was a boost to Mogadishu in its battle against Islamist insurgents, was detained in central Somalia and then taken to the town of Adado.
Much of Somalia has been stabilized after two decades of turmoil by a campaign that drove back the militant group Al-Shabaab.
But the federal government, in charge for less than a year, is slowly working to extend its power and influence beyond Mogadishu with the help of the African peacekeeping troops on whom it relies for security.
Diplomats said Aweys, who is on a U.N. Security Council terrorism sanctions list, had fled a bout of in-fighting in Al-Shabaab.
“If he renounces violence, then we can start the discussion about the options available,” government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman told Reuters, without describing the options.
He confirmed Aweys had arrived in the Somali capital.
Speaking before boarding the plane at Adado, the spokesman for the Himan and Heeb regional administration, Mohamed Omar Hagafey, said Aweys had agreed to meet top government officials “after much discussion” that had lasted several days.
Al-Shabaab Islamists were driven from power in Somalia by African forces but still control swathes of the countryside. Analysts say the group has been mired in an internal row over whether to use foreign fighters, a tactic Aweys opposed.
Aweys helped to found the Union of Islamic Courts that briefly controlled Mogadishu and most of Somalia in 2006 before it was routed by Ethiopia, a nation long seen by the West as a bulwark against Islamist militancy in the region.
After a brief period abroad he returned, but his group was forced to join up with the more powerful Al-Shabaab.