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A leading al-Shabab commander has been captured in Somalia, according to local officials. Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys is in his 70s and has been branded a terrorist by the US government.
Aweys is a former leader of the extremist group Hisbul Islam – an Islamist group that fought against Somali authorities and merged with al-Shabab in 2010.
He reportedly fled the port town of Barawa last week after fighting broke out between rival al-Shabab factions.
Reports suggest Aweys is being held in the Somali town of Adado.
Al-Shabab has lost a huge amount of territory and along with it influence over Somalis in the last two years.
Its fighters have been driven from their strongholds in the capital, Mogadishu, and the port city of Kismayo, by concerted military operations launched by Somali government forces and the African Union peacekeeping force, AMISOM.
It has been reported that the American government has requested Aweys’ extradition to face charges in the US that date to 2001.
This request has reportedly been turned down by the Somali government, which has said Aweys should be transferred to Mogadishu to stand trial there.
In 2006, Aweys ordered fighters in Somalia to launch a ‘jihad’ in order to drive out Ethiopian troops, who had deployed to the country to protect its interim government.
Then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi later withdrew Ethiopian forces, upon the arrival of the AU peacekeeping force.