What is the ASWJ?
Somalia Report Explores the Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamma Militia
By MHD 05/03/2012
With multiple local and foreign forces supporting Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in their battle against the hardline Islamic militant group, al-Shabaab, Somalia Report explores one group, the pro-government Sufi militia, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamma (ASWJ).

ASWJ Fighters
ASWJ Fighters

History of Sufism

Sufism is a mystical Islamic sect with a considerable number of adherents in Somalia. Adherents seek to distance themselves from the material world and in that manner connect with their creator. In Somalia, the sect's presence goes as far back as the 15th century.

The Sufi sect gained respect in Somalia because they were solely devoted to the teaching and spreading of Islam in the country. They did not have any role to play in the country’s political state and maintained a low economic status. ASWJ is mainly composed of the Sufi ulumas (scholars) who were the former religious leaders of Somalia.

The Creation of ASWJ

The ASWJ as an armed political movement was first established in 2008 when they engaged in face-to-face fighting with al-Shabaab militia in Gureil district of Galgadud region in central Somalia. According to information provided by ASWJ leadership, the fighting was caused by three main issues:

• Senior members of ASWJ were arrested by al-Shabaab in Galgadud

• Al-Shabaab gave them an ultimatum of 42 days to join their group and adopt their beliefs and ideologies

• Al-Shabaab banned ASWJ from celebrating the Mowlid festival which is the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad

Faced by these challenges, the ASWJ held a series of meeting in all districts of Galgadud region which is traditionally an ASWJ stronghold and decided to fight al-Shabaab. They also formed several committees which included the interim mobilization committee, finance committee and military committee. Before the completion of these meetings, ASWJ and al-Shabaab conflict began in Guriel district on 27th December 2008. A battle occurred when al-Shabaab attacked a mosque and attempted to arrest a high profile ASWJ cleric. This provoked a full scale war after ASWJ received additional reinforcement from the other districts in the region like Abudwak, Balanbale and Herale, according to the ASWJ spokesmen Mohamed Hussien Abukar (Awliyo) and the chairman of ASWJ in southern Somalia Mohamed Mohamud Yusuf Aw-libah.

ASWJ's reinforcement militia were organised within a short period and they were mainly scholars, teachers in the Koranic schools, and loyalists of ASWJ in Abudwak, Balanbale and Herale, as explained by both Awlibah and Awliyo. The fighting later spread to other districts under the al-Shabaab administration in Galgadud which forced al-Shabaab to leave the major districts in the region; as a result, the ASWJ gained strong public support. Similar activities had also started in the south of the country like Gedo region and Banadir, hence ASWJ became the first organised Somali group to defeat al-Shabaab.

ASWJ as a Political Faction

ASWJ was first recognised as a legitimate political movement in Somalia in 2010 when they struck a power sharing deal facilitated by the Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa with the TFG. The agreement stated that 39 ASWJ representatives would be in the TFG. Six were to be part of the cabinet, 10 in the military and the rest were to occupy other sectors of the government. However ASWJ was not satisfied with how the power sharing deal was implemented. Only one member from ASWJ was appointed in the cabinet while five others were spread out in the military, according to Awlibah. Speaking to Somalia Report Awlibah accused the TFG of failing to implement the Addis Ababa agreement.

As ASWJ largely limited their presence and consolidated their power in the central regions and some parts of southern Somalia, they have gained a political legitimacy both in Somalia and the international community. ASWJ attended the London conference and also the Garowe One and Two in which they played the crucial role of uplifting their status as a political organization.

Areas Controlled by ASWJ

©Somalia Report

ASWJ generally controls all of Galgadud region except Adado district and is seeking to rid the area of TFG officials. They also control some parts of Hiran region and have a presence in Mogadishu but do not control specific areas in the capital. In Gedo region, ASWJ controls four districts, as illustrated in the map, with TFG forces.

Who Funds the ASWJ?

Most of the ASWJ funded by contributions from the Somali Diaspora and the local community, according to Sharif Abdiwahid Sharif Aden, the spokesman of ASWJ in southern Somalia, who spoke to Somalia Report. ASWJ also collects revenue in areas they control which they use for salaries and logistical operations costs of their soldiers. Other sources close to ASWJ leadership state that they sometimes receive logistical support from the Ethiopian government. Most of their leaders work voluntary and are not paid. Somalia Report communicated with several ASWJ leaders in order to get the total amount of funds received by ASWJ annually, but none were able to provide an accurate amount.

Leadership Struggles

After ASWJ took over the administration of most of Galgadud region, they elected Sheikh Mohamud Ma’alin Hassan as their leader. A few months later Sheikh Mohamud left after a misunderstanding and was replaced by Yusuf Mohamed Hefow. By mid-2011, serious disagreements overshadowed the ASWJ leadership in central Somalia and was based on clan power sharing.

The Marehan, Ayr and Dir clan within ASWJ have support in Galgadud. In 2011 Sheikh Ibrahim Hassan Gureye, an active ASWJ member in Abudwak, declared himself the official and legitimate ASWJ leader in central Somalia. This widened rifts among the ASWJ senior officials as suspicion and mistrust grew. When the Marehan militias withdrew from the frontlines in Abudwak, Balanbale and Dhabat, the group was well on its way to complete collapse. With the looming threat posed by al-Shabaab, Ethiopia stepped in and began mediation between the tribal factions of ASWJ. Negotiation meetings were held in Abduwak where the group's current chairman Hirsi Hilowle (Laba Gare) was elected.

Similar power struggles existed in the south. Today, it is still not clear who is the real ASWJ chairman for the southern Somalia. Both Aw-libah and Aidurus Said Ahmed claim the chairmanship. ASWJ in Banadir are an independent group who have looser ties to the TFG in comparison with ASWJ in the south. The ASWJ in Galgadud, Banadir and southern Somalia share a common ASWJ title but do not share a partnering policy which defines how they should work together.

Current Leaders of ASWJ

Ahmed Shiekh Adan (Shuqul)

Ahmed Sheikh Adan (Shuqul), ASWJ

Chairman ASWJ in Mogadishu (Banadir)

Birth: 1965

Place of Birth: Moagadishu

Clan: Shiekhal

Citizenship: Somali

Mohamed Mohamud Yusuf (Aw-libah)

Mohamed Mohamud Yusuf (Aw-libah), ASWJ

Chairman ASWJ in Southern Somalia

Date of Birth: 1962

Place of Birth: Garbaharey, Gedo region Clan: Marehan, Sub-clan of Darod

Citizenship: Somali

For our interview with Aw-libah, please click here.

Aidurus Sayid Ahmed

Aidurus Sayid Ahmed, ASWJ

Chairman of ASWJ in Southern Somalia

Birth: 18 October 1969

Place of Birth: Sarinley Gedo Region

Clan: Marehan, sub-clan of Darod

Hirsi Aw-Mohamed Hilowle

Hirsi Aw-Mohamed Hilowle
Chairman of ASWJ in Galgadud region

Birth: 1962

Place of birth: Mogadishu

Clan: Marehan Sub-clan of Darod

Citizenship: Australian

Sharif Abdiwahid Sharif Adan (Hilalu Ahmar)

Sharif Abdiwahid Sharif Adan (Hilalu Ahmar), ASWJ

Spokesman of ASWJ in Southern Somalia

Birth: 1975

Place of Birth: Luq Gedo Region

Clan: Asharaf

Citizenship: Somali

Mohamed Hussein Abukar

Mohamed Hussein Abukar

Spokesman and Representative in Europe

Birth: January 1967

Place of Birth: Hargaysa

Clan: Dir

Citizenship: UK

Yusuf Mohamed Hefow

Yusuf Mohamed Hefow

Title: Executive committee chairman

Birth: 1958

Place of Birth: Beledweyn

Clan: Hawiye, sub-clan, Ceyr

Citizenship: Somali

Sheikh Abdulkadir Sheikh Mohamed (Ooomoow)

Sheikh Abdulkadir Sheikh Mohamed, ASWJ

Title: the speaker of superior council of ASWJ

Date of birth: 1964

Place of birth: Biyocadde, Middle Shebelle region

Citizenship: Somali

Clan: Abgal, Sub-clan of Hawiye

Omar Sheikh Mohamed Farah

Omar Sheikh Mohamed Farah, ASWJ
Title: Head of the operation of ASWJ in Galgadud

Date of birth: 1975

Place of birth: Elbur, Galgadud region

Clan: Murusade, Sub-clan of Hawiye

Citizenship: Somali

ASWJ Diplomacy

With TFG

According to information provided by Mohamed Hussein Abukar Awliyo, the spokesman of ASWJ, the TFG and ASWJ are not on good terms. Mr Awliyo expressed is frustration with the TFG's acknowledgment of the advancement made by the ASWJ forces in the different frontlines. He also accused the TFG of supporting and creating local regional administrations in areas controlled by ASWJ in an attempt to eliminate them. The recent visit by the Somalia head of state to Adado district controlled by Himin and Heb administration and his failure to officially visit ASWJ controlled areas, indicates the failing relations between the TFG and ASWJ according to Awliyo.

With Ethiopia and UNPOS

Ethiopia, which worked with the ASWJ to take control of key towns in Galgadud in March of this year, is not willing to allow Somalia to recover and govern itself again and western countries are destroying Somalia, according to the spokesman.

The United Nations Political Office (UNPOS) for Somalia and the Ethiopian government harbour plans to destroy ASWJ by creating local and regional administrations in Galgadud. They are backing new leaders like Ahmed Abdisalan the former deputy prime minister in order to eliminate ASWJ leadership structures as explained by Awliyo.

"They are providing a lot of resources to the TFG. It is led by Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. A few years ago he was bombing and terrorising the local communities in Somalia, yet they allowed him to be the leader of Somalia. This is clear indication that they do not want peace for this country again. Now they are trying to negotiate with al-Shabaab," said Awliyo.

"We met with the officials from the American embassy in Nairobi several times and also other western embassies and asked them for help but they told us to create a regional authority if we want funds. It is clear to us that they do not want to work with us because of our religious affiliations and name. They also want to put us in total political isolation," he explained.

The Future of ASWJ

Reports provided by the chairman of ASWJ in southern Somalia indicate that ASWJ will become an unarmed political organization after 2012 when the transitional period comes to an end. At that time, ASWJ militias will become part of the Somalia national forces. The chairman stated that they shared this with the international community who accepted the proposal.