A Department of Homeland Security Emeritus Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

Islamic Courts Union (ICU) Narrative


Islamic Courts Union (ICU)

Last Update

June 2015

Aliases

Supreme Islamic Courts Council (SICC), Ittih d al-Mah kim al-Isl miyya[1]

History

The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was founded in 2000 in order to create an Islamic state in Somalia after more than a decade of anarchy.[2] The ICU is a coalition with its origins stemming back to the mid-1990s when religious courts attempted to bring order to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, which had not had a stable government since 1991.[3] Before the ICU alliance, 11 autonomous courts in Mogadishu provided governance and criminal justice within Islamic jurisprudential frameworks. After the ICU alliance coalesced, the ICU increasingly played the role of a police force as well as set of courts.[4] Part of the responsibility for policing fell to the youth military wing of the ICU, Al-Shabaab, now a separate terrorist organization.[5] In June 2006, ICU gained control of Mogadishu, as well as most of southern Somalia.[6] The ICU publically declared that it wanted to portray itself as a moderate force capable of stabilizing Somalia; however, in practice, the ICU showed evidence of strict religious rule.[7] The major turning point for the ICU came in December 2006 when the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia and the Ethiopian military, both with support from the United States, forced the ICU out of Mogadishu.[8] The ICU fled to bordering countries and slid into obsolescence, with the moderates of the ICU in exile and the extreme militants migrating to Al-Shabaab.[9] In 2008, the ICU retook parts of Somalia such as Beledweyne on the Ethiopian border and Giohar, north of Mogadishu.[10] However, they remain weakened and have nearly been made obsolete due to the strength of Al-Shabaab. 

Home Base

Somalia

Founding Year

2000[11]

Ideology

Religious-Islamist-Sunni[12]

Specific Goals

  • To establish an Islamic state in Somalia by promoting Islamic law.[13]

Political Activity

  • Enforced law and order, including through the use of courts, in 2006 in Mogadishu and southern Somalia[14]
  • The ICU is a core member of the Eritrea-based opposition group Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS). After the ARS wing based in Djibouti later joined the TFG in 2009, ICU leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was elected president of Somalia.[15]

Financing

  • Funded by other violent group: According to a United Nations report in 2006, Hezbollah was funding the Islamic militants of the ICU, also providing arms and training. [16]
  • Charities/Donations: The ICU was additionally funded by influential businesses in Somalia.[17]
  • State Sponsorship: According to a United Nations report in 2006, the countries of Iran, Syria, Libya and Egypt were funding the Islamic militants of the ICU, also providing arms and training.[18]

Leadership and Structure over Time

  • The ICU is a hierarchical organization, [19] but few details on its organization beyond that fact are available in the open sources.
  • 2000-2006: Hasan Dahir Aweys (Secretary General of ICU's Sharia Implementation Council)[20]
  • 2000-2003: Shaikh 'Ali Dheere (aka "Muhammad Omar Habeeb", Chairman of ICU's Sharia Implementation Council)[21]
  • 2000-2008:  Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was appointed the Chairman of the ICU at its founding; he led the ICU until he was elected president of Somalia in January 2009.[22]

Strength

  • 2006: Several thousand[23]
  • 2007: Less than several thousand

Allies and Suspected Allies

  • Iran (Suspected Ally)
    • According to a 2009 RAND report, UN weapons inspectors claimed that Iran was among a number of states which had provided arms, training, and logistical support to the ICU.[24]
  • Syria (Suspected Ally)
    • According to a 2009 RAND report, UN weapons inspectors claimed that Syria was among a number of states which had provided arms, training, and logistical support to the ICU.[25]
  • Libya (Suspected Ally)
    • According to a 2009 RAND report, UN weapons inspectors claimed that Libya was among a number of states which had provided arms, training, and logistical support to the ICU.[26]
  • Egypt (Suspected Ally)
    • According to a 2009 RAND report, UN weapons inspectors claimed that Egypt was among a number of states which had provided arms, training, and logistical support to the ICU.[27]
  • Hezbollah (Suspected Ally)
    • As of 2008, ICU was believed to have connections with Hezbollah, with several ICU members fighting alongside Hezbollah during the 2006 war with Israel.[28]
  • Al-Shabaab (Faction/Splinter)
    • Al-Shabaab began as ICU's youth wing, but became an entirely separate entity after ICU's collapse in late 2006.[29]

Rivals and Enemies

  • Transitional Federal Government (TFG) (Rival, Target)
    • In late 2006, TFG and Ethiopian forces defeated the ICU, driving them out of Mogadishu.[30]
  • Ethiopian military (Rival)
    • In late 2006, Ethiopian forces work with the TFG to drive the ICU out of Mogadishu.[31]
  • United States (Rival)
    • The United States had accused the ICU of links to al-Qa’ida that included the ICU sheltering al-Qa’ida members who were suspects in a 1998 bombing in Kenya and Tanzania.[32]

Counterterrorism Efforts

  • Domestic Military
    • The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia, backed by the United States and the Ethiopian military used force against the ICU.[33]
  • International Military
    • The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to warlords who opposed the ICU.[34]
  • International Political
    • On November 25, 2008, a peace agreement with political reforms was signed between the TFG and ARS, et al. The expanded parliament elected former ICU leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed as president on the new TFG, but this did little to relieve tensions.[35]

United States Government Designations

None

Other Governments’ Designations

None

 

[1] Ioan Lewis, “Somalia,” Encyclopedia Britannica, December 29, 2014, http://www.britannica.com/place/Somalia.

[2] Admin, “Islamist Control of Mogadishu Raises Concern of Extremist Future for Somalia,” PBS Newshour, June 8, 2006, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/africa-jan-june06-somalia_06-08; Mukoma Wa Ngugi, “How Al-Shabaab Was Born,” The Guardian, October 4, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/04/kenya-westgate-mall-attacks.

[3] Helene Cooper, “6 Nations Urge Talks in Somalia for Exiled Rulers and Islamists,” The New York Times, June 16, 2006, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/16/world/africa/16somalia.html; Admin, “Islamist Control of Mogadishu Raises Concern of Extremist Future for Somalia,” PBS Newshour, June 8, 2006, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/africa-jan-june06-somalia_06-08/; Craig Timberg, “Somalia’s Islamic Militias Reaching Out to the West,” The Washington Post, June 14, 2006, sec. World, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/13/AR2006061301527.html.Helene Cooper, "6 Nations Urge Talks in Somalia For Exiled Rulers and Islamists," The New York Times, June 16, 2006, accessed November 2, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/16/world/africa/16somalia.html?_r=0

[4] Craig Timberg, “Somalia’s Islamic Militias Reaching Out to the West,” The Washington Post, June 14, 2006, sec. World, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/13/AR2006061301527.html; BBC, “Profile: Somalia’s Islamic Courts,” BBC News, June 6, 2006, sec. Africa, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/5051588.stm; Mukoma Wa Ngugi, “How Al-Shabaab Was Born,” The Guardian, October 4, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/04/kenya-westgate-mall-attacks; Marc Lacey, “Somali Islamists Cement Control of South Amid Border Tension,” The New York Times, June 18, 2006, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/18/world/africa/18somalia.html.

[5] Robert E Thomason, “Competing Interests,” The Washington Post, January 22, 2009, sec. World, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/21/AR2009012103762.html; Jeffrey Gettleman, “Islamists Continue Advance Through Somalia,” The New York Times, November 14, 2008, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/world/africa/14somalia.html; Jonathan Masters and Mohammed Aly Sergie, “Al-Shabab,” CFR Backgrounders, March 13, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/terrorism/timeline-al-shabab/p31468; Mukoma Wa Ngugi, “How Al-Shabaab Was Born,” The Guardian, October 4, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/04/kenya-westgate-mall-attacks; Ioan Lewis, “Somalia,” Encyclopedia Britannica, December 29, 2014, http://www.britannica.com/place/Somalia.

[6] Jonathan Masters and Mohammed Aly Sergie, “Al-Shabab,” CFR Backgrounders, March 13, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/terrorism/timeline-al-shabab/p31468; BBC, “Profile: Somalia’s Islamic Courts,” BBC News, June 6, 2006, sec. Africa, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/5051588.stm; Robert E Thomason, “Competing Interests,” The Washington Post, January 22, 2009, sec. World, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/21/AR2009012103762.html; Jeffrey Gettleman, “Islamists Continue Advance Through Somalia,” The New York Times, November 14, 2008, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/world/africa/14somalia.html; Helene Cooper, “6 Nations Urge Talks in Somalia for Exiled Rulers and Islamists,” The New York Times, June 16, 2006, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/16/world/africa/16somalia.html; Ioan Lewis, “Somalia,” Encyclopedia Britannica, December 29, 2014, http://www.britannica.com/place/Somalia.

[7] MMP, “Islamic Courts Union,” Mapping Militant Organizations, July 18, 2012, https://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/107.

[8] Jonathan Masters and Mohammed Aly Sergie, “Al-Shabab,” CFR Backgrounders, March 13, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/terrorism/timeline-al-shabab/p31468; Mukoma Wa Ngugi, “How Al-Shabaab Was Born,” The Guardian, October 4, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/04/kenya-westgate-mall-attacks; Jeffrey Gettleman, “Islamists Continue Advance Through Somalia,” The New York Times, November 14, 2008, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/world/africa/14somalia.html; Bronwyn Bruton, “Self Induced Stalemate in Somalia: An Assessment of US Policy Options,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, accessed June 26, 2015, https://csis.org/story/self-induced-stalemate-somalia-assessment-us-policy-options; Ioan Lewis, “Somalia,” Encyclopedia Britannica, December 29, 2014, http://www.britannica.com/place/Somalia.

[9] Jonathan Masters and Mohammed Aly Sergie, “Al-Shabab,” CFR Backgrounders, March 13, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/terrorism/timeline-al-shabab/p31468; Mukoma Wa Ngugi, “How Al-Shabaab Was Born,” The Guardian, October 4, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/04/kenya-westgate-mall-attacks; Robert E Thomason, “Competing Interests,” The Washington Post, January 22, 2009, sec. World, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/21/AR2009012103762.html; Fareed Zakaria, “The Failed-State Conundrum,” The Washington Post, July 19, 2010, sec. Opinions, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/18/AR2010071802734.html.

[10] Jeffrey Gettleman, “Islamists Continue Advance Through Somalia,” The New York Times, November 14, 2008, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/world/africa/14somalia.html.

[11] Admin, “Islamist Control of Mogadishu Raises Concern of Extremist Future for Somalia,” PBS Newshour, June 8, 2006, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/africa-jan-june06-somalia_06-08/.

[12] Editor, “Somalia Simmers,” The Washington Post, October 18, 2006, sec. Opinions, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/17/AR2006101701473.html.

[13] BBC, “Profile: Somalia’s Islamic Courts,” BBC News, June 6, 2006, sec. Africa, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/5051588.stm; Admin, “Islamist Control of Mogadishu Raises Concern of Extremist Future for Somalia,” PBS Newshour, June 8, 2006, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/africa-jan-june06-somalia_06-08.

[14] Admin, “Islamist Control of Mogadishu Raises Concern of Extremist Future for Somalia,” PBS Newshour, June 8, 2006, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/africa-jan-june06-somalia_06-08; Helene Cooper, “6 Nations Urge Talks in Somalia for Exiled Rulers and Islamists,” The New York Times, June 16, 2006, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/16/world/africa/16somalia.html.

[15] Martin Hill, No Redress: Somalia’s Forgotten Minorities (Minority Rights Group International, 2010), http://www.operationspaix.net/DATA/DOCUMENT/4448~v~No_Redress__Somalia_s_Forgotten_Minorities.pdf.

[16] Colum Lynch, “UN Report Cites Outside Military Aid to Somalia’s Islamic Forces,” The Washington Post, November 15, 2006, sec. World, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/14/AR2006111401320.html.

[17] BBC, “Profile: Somalia’s Islamic Courts,” BBC News, June 6, 2006, sec. Africa, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/5051588.stm; Jeffrey Gettleman, “Islamists Continue Advance Through Somalia,” The New York Times, November 14, 2008, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/world/africa/14somalia.html.

[18] Colum Lynch, “UN Report Cites Outside Military Aid to Somalia’s Islamic Forces,” The Washington Post, November 15, 2006, sec. World, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/14/AR2006111401320.html.

[19] Kjetil Tronvoll, “Islamism in the Horn of Africa: Assessing Ideology, Actors and Objectives” (Oslo, NOR: International Law and Policy Institute, June 22, 2010), http://ilpi.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/30/0202/06/Islamism_in_the_Horn__ILPI_Report-libre.pdf.

[20] Moshe Terdman, Somalia at War: Between Radical Islam and Tribal Politics (S. Daniel Abraham Center for International and Regional Studies, Tel Aviv University, 2008), http://www.xtome.org/docs/countries/somalia/somalia_-_Mar08.pdf; Angela Rabasa, “Radical Islam in East Africa” (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Project Air Force, 2009), https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG782.pdf; Ken Menkhaus and Christopher Boucek, “Terrorism Out of Somalia,” Q&A, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, (September 23, 2010), http://carnegieendowment.org/2010/09/23/terrorism-out-of-somalia.

[21] Moshe Terdman, Somalia at War: Between Radical Islam and Tribal Politics (S. Daniel Abraham Center for International and Regional Studies, Tel Aviv University, 2008), http://www.xtome.org/docs/countries/somalia/somalia_-_Mar08.pdf; Angela Rabasa, “Radical Islam in East Africa” (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Project Air Force, 2009), https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG782.pdf; ICG, “Somalia’s Islamists,” Africa Report (International Crisis Group, December 12, 2005), http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/horn-of-africa/somalia/100-somalias-islamists.aspx.

[22] Admin, “Islamist Control of Mogadishu Raises Concern of Extremist Future for Somalia,” PBS Newshour, June 8, 2006, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/africa-jan-june06-somalia_06-08; BBC, “Profile: Somalia’s Islamic Courts,” BBC News, June 6, 2006, sec. Africa, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/5051588.stm; Marc Lacey, “Somali Islamists Cement Control of South Amid Border Tension,” The New York Times, June 18, 2006, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/18/world/africa/18somalia.html; BBC, “Somalia’s Moderate Islamist Leader,” BBC News, January 22, 2007, sec. Africa, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/5072268.stm; Solomon A. Dersso, “Somalia Dilemmas: Changing Security Dynamics, but Limited Policy Choices,” Institute for Security Studies Papers, no. 218 (2010): 24 – p, http://reference.sabinet.co.za/sa_epublication_article/ispaper_n218_a1.

[23] BBC, “Profile: Somalia’s Islamic Courts,” BBC News, June 6, 2006, sec. Africa, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/5051588.stm.

[24] Angela Rabasa, “Radical Islam in East Africa” (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Project Air Force, 2009), https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG782.pdf

[25] Angela Rabasa, “Radical Islam in East Africa” (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Project Air Force, 2009), https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG782.pdf

[26] Angela Rabasa, “Radical Islam in East Africa” (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Project Air Force, 2009), https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG782.pdf

[27] Angela Rabasa, “Radical Islam in East Africa” (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Project Air Force, 2009), https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG782.pdf

[28] Magnus Norell, “Islamist Networks in Somalia,” FOI Somalia Papers (Stockholm, SWE: FOI, Swedish Defence Research Agency, 2008), http://www.foi.se/ReportFiles/foir_2609.pdf.

[29] Paula Cristina Roque, “Somalia: Understanding Al-Shabaab,” Situation Report (Pretoria, ZAF: Institute for Security Studies, June 3, 2009), http://www.issafrica.org/uploads/SABAAB040609.PDF.

[30] Ted Dagne, “Somalia: Current Conditions and Prospects for a Lasting Peace” (DTIC Document, 2010), http://oai.dtic.mil/oai/oai?verb=getRecord&metadataPrefix=html&identifier=ADA535853; Solomon A. Dersso, “Somalia Dilemmas: Changing Security Dynamics, but Limited Policy Choices,” Institute for Security Studies Papers, no. 218 (2010): 24 – p, http://reference.sabinet.co.za/sa_epublication_article/ispaper_n218_a1.

[31] Ted Dagne, “Somalia: Current Conditions and Prospects for a Lasting Peace” (DTIC Document, 2010), http://oai.dtic.mil/oai/oai?verb=getRecord&metadataPrefix=html&identifier=ADA535853; Solomon A. Dersso, “Somalia Dilemmas: Changing Security Dynamics, but Limited Policy Choices,” Institute for Security Studies Papers, no. 218 (2010): 24 – p, http://reference.sabinet.co.za/sa_epublication_article/ispaper_n218_a1.

[32] Jeffrey Gettleman, “Islamists Continue Advance Through Somalia,” The New York Times, November 14, 2008, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/world/africa/14somalia.html; Editor, “Somalia Simmers,” The Washington Post, October 18, 2006, sec. Opinions, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/17/AR2006101701473.html; Helene Cooper, “6 Nations Urge Talks in Somalia for Exiled Rulers and Islamists,” The New York Times, June 16, 2006, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/16/world/africa/16somalia.html; Mark Mazzetti, “US Signals Backing for Ethiopian Incursion Into Somalia,” The New York Times, December 27, 2006, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/27/world/africa/27africa.html.

[33] Nuruddin Farah, “My Life as a Diplomat,” The New York Times, May 26, 2007, sec. Opinion, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/26/opinion/26farah.html; Jonathan Masters and Mohammed Aly Sergie, “Al-Shabab,” CFR Backgrounders, March 13, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/terrorism/timeline-al-shabab/p31468; Robert E Thomason, “Competing Interests,” The Washington Post, January 22, 2009, sec. World, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/21/AR2009012103762.html; Bronwyn Bruton, “Self Induced Stalemate in Somalia: An Assessment of US Policy Options,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, accessed June 26, 2015, https://csis.org/story/self-induced-stalemate-somalia-assessment-us-policy-options.

[34] Admin, “Islamist Control of Mogadishu Raises Concern of Extremist Future for Somalia,” PBS Newshour, June 8, 2006, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/africa-jan-june06-somalia_06-08; Jonathan Masters and Mohammed Aly Sergie, “Al-Shabab,” CFR Backgrounders, March 13, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/terrorism/timeline-al-shabab/p31468; Mark Mazzetti, “US Signals Backing for Ethiopian Incursion Into Somalia,” The New York Times, December 27, 2006, sec. International / Africa, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/27/world/africa/27africa.html.

[35] Solomon A. Dersso, “Somalia Dilemmas: Changing Security Dynamics, but Limited Policy Choices,” Institute for Security Studies Papers, no. 218 (2010): 24 – p, http://reference.sabinet.co.za/sa_epublication_article/ispaper_n218_a1.