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Pengerusi Exco UIC Sheikh Sharif ditangkap

Islamic courts leader surrenders

Mogadishu, 22 January - A senior leader of the Union of Islamic Courts has surrendered to Kenyan authorities on the border with Somalia, Kenyan officials have said.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (picture left), chairman of the Executive Council of Islamic Courts, was reportedly detained with three other Somalis on Sunday.

"They captured him in the Liboi area. He's under US protection," the Somali intelligence official told Reuters news agency.

Ahmed is considered a moderate in the movement that was forced out of Mogadishu and southern Somalia by Ethiopian and Somali government forces.

Liboi is a Kenya border crossing near the southern tip of Somalia, where Ethiopian and Somali government troops have been hunting for Islamic courts fighters.

Kenyan officials have said that Ahmed has been flown to Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, and is being held in a hotel.

National reconciliation

"He is the public face of the Islamic courts and is increasing being seen as crucial to any national reconciliation effort in Somalia ... this is why, diplomatic sources say, he is being held in a hotel and this is why he is under US protection," Mohammed Adow, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Mogadishu, said.

An official with the US embassy in Nairobi denied reports that Washington had any involvement in Ahmed's presence in Kenya.

"The United States is not holding or interrogating or protecting Sheikh Sharif," the official told the AFP news agency. "We were not involved in his capture or surrender."

The United States sees Ahmed as a moderate in the Islamic Courts movement which formerly vowed to topple the Somali government and to extend its system of Islamic laws across all Somalia.

Michael Ranneberger, the US ambassador to Kenya, whose brief includes Somalia, met him in Nairobi last year after the Islamic Courts seized Mogadishu to urge them to practise moderation. Ahmed shared the leadership of the Union of the Islamic Courts with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who was chairman of the court's legislative council.

Ethiopian troops came under fire again on Monday as they carried out searches in the south of the capital, residents told the AFP news agency that at least four civilians were killed in the ensuing gunbattle.

The searches were being conducted after an ambush on an Ethiopian convoy at the weekend which also resulted in a deadly gunbattle. alJazeera & Agencies

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