Organisation/s: Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya; Islamic Courts; Al-Shabaab
Travel History: Afghanistan (2001) Eritrea (2006)
Hassan Dahir Aweys is a former colonel in the Somali army who heeded the call of Sheikh Ali Warsame to lead Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya’s (AIAI) military wing in the early 90s. AIAI also attracted financial support from Osama bin Laden who took interest in the group during his residence in Sudan between 1991 and 1996. In this period, Osama bin Laden also deployed Al-Qaeda operatives to further support the group with training and combat against Ethiopian forces which later saw Aweys and Aden Hashi Farah Ayro selected for further training in Afghanistan in 2001. This was after AIAI suffered major defeats, losing its strongholds along the Ethiopian border to Ethiopian forces.
Despite Aweys announcing AIAI’s reformation as a political party, the group remained inactive after 1997, with subsequent attacks attributed to lone wolf members than a deployment by the group’s leadership. After training in Afghanistan, Aweys and Ayro returned to Somalia into the fold of the Islamic Courts where they became senior leaders and focused on gathering remnants of AIAI to form its militant wing. Aweys allegedly traveled to Eritrea in 2006 to continue fundraising for the resurgence of AIAI, which reveals how Aweys, to an extent, still considered himself a leader in his own right as opposed to having fully merged with the Islamic Courts.
In 2009, Aweys became the leader of Hizbul Islam, another Islamist insurgent group which joined Al-Shabaab in December 2010 following major factional disputes. By 2013, not only had Hizbul Islam split from Al-Shabaab, Aweys found himself caught in the crossfire between Ahmed Abi Godane and his rivals, in which he decided to side with the latter namely Mukhtar Robow and Ibrahim Haji Jama Mee’aad ‘Al-Afghani’. In June 2013 Aweys was arrested by Somali security forces in what was widely considered as surrender to the federal government.