NAIROBI, KENYA — Somalia's new hard-line opposition leader promised Friday to pacify his shattered country through Islamic law, warning U.N. peacekeepers they will face attack if they deploy and support the government.
Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, whose Islamic regime was ousted from power in 2006 with tacit support from the United States, is gaining influence again as a deadly insurgency ruptures Somalia. Thousands have been killed in the fighting since 2007.
Aweys this week took over the Islamist opposition movement, which operates in exile in Eritrea, pushing out a more moderate cleric who signed a peace agreement with Somalia's U.N.-backed government last month.
"Fighting U.N. peacekeepers depends on how they behave in Somalia," Aweys told the Associated Press in an interview that touched on a variety of subjects, including accusations of terrorism.
The United Nations Security Council has said it would consider deploying peacekeepers to replace African Union troops if political reconciliation and security improved.
But the badly undermanned African Union force has struggled in its efforts to keep the peace, and Aweys' accession to the leadership of the opposition does not appear to promise further reconciliation.
An Iraq-style Islamic insurgency, which Aweys promised after he was driven from power with the help of Ethiopian troops, has contributed to a humanitarian emergency, with millions of Somalis dependent on aid. The United States fears Somalia could become a haven for Al Qaeda.
Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokeswoman, said the U.S. does not consider Aweys a legitimate representative of the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.
"Aweys' self-proclamation of leadership over the ARS does not reflect the sentiment, as we understand it, of other ARS members, nor does it reflect the desire of the Somali people for peace and stability," Thompson said.
In New York, the U.N. envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, dismissed Aweys' warning to the peacekeepers. "This is classic. The only way for him to get a headline is to say outrageous statements," Ould-Abdallah told several reporters Friday at U.N. headquarters.
Ould-Abdallah, a Mauritanian diplomat who was appointed the Somalia envoy for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September, predicted Aweys' threat would not affect U.N. Security Council decisions on Somalia. "It is very easy to say, 'I will threaten,' he said. Everywhere peacekeepers go they are threatened."
Ould-Abdallah also said he does not believe that Aweys, a terrorist, is a legitimate representative of the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.
Aweys is designated a terrorist under a U.N. Security Council resolution.
Aweys and a spokesman for the movement have confirmed he was voted into power Tuesday. A communique from the alliance, dated July 22 and obtained by the AP, announces his leadership.
Speaking by phone from the opposition base in Eritrea, Aweys said his fighters would battle any U.N. force that supports the government or the Ethiopian troops propping up that fragile administration.
"The issue is clear," he said. "If they side with the [government] and with Ethiopians, we will fight them."
Aweys refused to say how many fighters are backing him, but said he is confident he can end the 17 years of chaos that have followed the ouster of a dictatorship left Somalia without a government.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Washington put Aweys on a terrorist watch list because he and an Islamic group he founded were believed to have had links to Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s.
He went into hiding after the Sept. 11 attack and didn't re-emerge until 2005, when he helped found a radical Islamic militia that became known as the Council of Islamic Courts.
The militia brought southern Somalia a semblance of stability, but also terrified people with threats of public executions and floggings. Aweys' group ruled the capital and much of the south for six months in 2006 before troops from Ethiopia defeated it.
Aweys' group then launched an insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians.
The United States supports Somalia's ineffectual transitional government.
Aweys, however, said only Islamic law can help Somalia.
"Somalis are Muslims," he said. "We have asked them and they want Islamic rule."