Sunday, December 19, 2010; 2:05 PM
NAIROBI, Kenya -- Somalia's two main insurgent groups plan to merge to defeat the weak U.N.-backed government, a senior official with one of the forces said Sunday.
The Islamic Party will join forces with the al-Qaida linked al-Shabab militia and fight under al-Shabab's name, the Islamic Party's head of operations, Sheik Mohamed Osman Arus, told The Associated Press.
Fighters from the Islamic Party have been defeated several times by al-Shabab, including a battle to control the port city of Kismayo. But Arus denied the merger was a face-saving tactic for his weakened group, saying the planned union is "a bonus for the Mujahideen and a bane to the invaders and mercenaries."
He said the merger would officially be announced soon, but did not give a specific date. Al-Shabab spokesmen were not available for comment.
The two groups have fought together against government forces in the past despite ideological differences and the recent clashes.
The Islamic Party has previously condemned al-Shabab's use of tactics, including suicide bombers and summary executions. Its founder, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, criticized al-Shabab's public pledging of allegiance to Osama bin Laden. The Islamic Party has around 2,500-3,000 fighters and was widely seen as having a more nationalist agenda than al-Shabab, which has been heavily influenced by Wahhabi Islam ideology.
Arus said his group's aim to unite with al-Shabab was to influence the hard line elements in it from within, "because any fighting between us will only give more power to the enemy."
Both al-Shabab and the Islamic Party have been plagued by factionalism.
The Islamists hold most of south-central Somalia and much of the capital city. So far they have been unable to seize the port, airport or government headquarters, which are protected by an African Union peacekeeping force.
Somalia has not had a functioning government for 20 years.