Islamic Courts Union

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Islamic Courts Union
Midowga Maxkamadaha Islaamiga  (Somali)
Flag of Somalia.svg

The Islamic Courts Union (ICU; Somali: Midowga Maxkamadaha Islaamiga;) was a legal and political organisation which was formed to address lawlessness [1] in Somalia following the fall of the Siad Barre regime in the 1991 during the Somali Civil War. In an interview featured in the BBC Online Somali section in June 2006, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said: "the Union of Islamic Courts was established to ensure that Somali people suffering for 15 years would gain peace and full justice and freedom from the anarchic rule of warlords who refuted their people to no direction."

The residents of Mogadishu were reportedly happy with the Islamic Courts Union's authority. There were fewer guns on the streets and people were able to move more freely around the city without fear of attack after they took control.[2]

The Islamic Courts Union's influence was enhanced by wealthy financial donors who sought to enable the Islamic Courts Union to bring stability to the country.[3]


According to Chatham House "The Courts achieved the unthinkable, uniting Mogadishu for the first time in 16 years, and re-establishing peace and security".[4]

On 15 July 2006, the Islamic Courts Union reopened Mogadishu International Airport, which had been closed since the withdrawal of the international forces in 1995. The first airplane chartered by the Arab League flew from the airport for the first time in 11 years picking up Islamic Courts Union delegates to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.[5]

The Islamic Courts Union organized a clean-up campaign for the streets of Mogadishu on 20 July 2006. This was the first time litter and rubbish had been collected in the entire city since it collapsed into chaos over a decade earlier.[6]

On 25 August 2006 the Islamic Courts reopened the historic seaport of Mogadishu, which had been one of the busiest in East Africa but had been shut down for the prior ten years.[7]

The Islamic Courts Union fought pirate activity on the Somali coast, which subsequently declined during its rule.[8]

Map showing the ICU at the peak of its influence.


The Islamic Courts Union originated in the north of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, in 1994 and by 1996 their jurisdiction spread to the south of the capital.[9] When the transitional government of Abdiqasim Hassan Salad came to power in 2000 the momentum of the ICU was initially slowed. It was revived in 2004 by Sharif Sheikh Ahmed who was subsequently elected as chairman of the ICU.[9]

Defeat of warlords[edit]

Between May and July 2006 an offensive took place against the Islamic Courts Union by an alliance of warlords who were trying to seize control of Somalia's capital city, Mogadishu. The Warlord Alliance was funded by the United States.[10] This offensive led to the 2006 Battle of Mogadishu, following which the Islamic Courts Union expanded further in Somalia.

Ethiopian invasion of Somalia[edit]

The Ethiopian invasion and occupation of Somalia which followed, was an armed conflict involving largely Ethiopian and Transitional Federal Government forces and troops from Puntland against the Islamic Court Union, and militias affiliated to them for control of the country. On 26 December 2006 the ICU peacefully withdrew from the capital.[11]

Resignation of ICU leaders[edit]

The top leaders of the Islamic Courts Union, including Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Sheikh Abdirahman Janaqow, resigned on 27 December 2006, and the organisation was disbanded.[11]

Events after ICU disbanded[edit]

Human Rights Watch expressed concern about arbitrary detention of refugees and internally displaced people. The situation was sufficiently severe that they accused TFG, Ethiopia, United States and the Kenya of operating a joint programme of secret detention.[12]

In response to the TFG's decision to shut down Radio HornAfrik (which broadcast BBC Somali Service), Radio Shabelle and Holy Koran Radio the United States warned that the combination of arrests and media blockages could undermine any efforts at reconciliation.[12]

Despite the warnings by the US Government, a man who had been detained in Somalia was transferred to the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay in September 2007, where he was held in extra-judicial detention for two and a half years and subsequently released without charge. The US government claimed that he had been a suspected Al-Qaeda member and they also said that Abdullahi Sudi Arale was a member of the ICU, although there is no evidence that either of these claims are true.[12]

The Ethiopian invasion and occupation of Somalia continued for a further two years.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "The Islamic Courts Union". Harvard Divinity School. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  2. ^ "Somalia's High Stakes Power Struggle". Council on Foreign Relations. 3 Aug 2006.
  3. ^ "Somalia's High Stakes Power Struggle". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2018-10-24.
  4. ^ "How Al Shabaab was born". Guardian. 4 October 2013.
  5. ^ Mohamed Abdi Farah, Somalia: Reopening of Mogadishu's airport welcomed, SomaliNet, July 15, 2006.
  6. ^ Ethiopian troops on Somali soil, BBC News, 20 July 2006.
  7. ^ First ship arrives in Mogadishu, BBC, August 25, 2006.
  8. ^, Associated Press, October 17, 2007"
  9. ^ a b Barnes, Cedric; Harun, Hassan (24 July 2007). "The Rise and Fall of Mogadishu's Islamic Courts". Journal of East African Studies. 1 (2): 151–160. doi:10.1080/17531050701452382. S2CID 154453168. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  10. ^ "Efforts by C.I.A. Fail in Somalia, Officials Charge". New York Times. 8 June 2006.
  11. ^ a b "Islamic Courts Union". Standford University.
  12. ^ a b c BBC (June 7, 2007). "'Al-Qaeda' arrest in East Africa". BBC News. Retrieved September 9, 2007.