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Sufi group backs more African Union troops in Somalia

By the CNN Wire Staff
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African Union support cheers militants
  • Group favors African Union deploying more troops in Somalia
  • Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama rallies in capital of Mogadishu
  • Al-Shabaab follows strict Islamic rules, has ties to al Qaeda
  • Somalia

Mogadishu, Somalia (CNN) -- A Somali militant group wanting to rid the war-torn country of an al Qaeda-linked movement welcomed Saturday the African Union's decision last week to expand its peacekeeping presence in the country.

Members of the Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama militia -- showing off their power by brandishing a small arsenal of light and heavy weaponry -- denounced Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab during a press conference in the capital, Mogadishu, and announced their support of the AU's decision to add at least 2,000 more troops to the 6,000-strong force targeting such groups.

Al-Shabaab, which has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, controls much of southern Somalia and portions of Mogadishu. Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama, which follows the Sufi form of Islam, turned against it after Al-Shabaab fighters destroyed the tombs of several revered leaders of the Sufi Muslim group in 2008.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for bomb blasts earlier this month in Uganda, which came just two weeks before an African Union summit there. More than 70 people were killed in the attacks. The group said the attacks were in retaliation for Uganda's troop contribution of the AU's peacekeeping operations in Somalia, known as AMISOM.

Al-Shabaab follows the strict Saudi Arabian-inspired Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, rather than the Sufi Islam of many Somalis.

Al-Shabaab and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama, which have a power-sharing agreement with the federal government, are rivals and have battled each other for nearly two years.

The United States is backing the African Union's mission in Somalia. Some observers say Somalia needs a political, rather than military, solution.

The AU patrols just a few streets in Mogadishu and protects facilities belonging to the weak central government, including the presidential palace. The country has been virtually lawless since 1991, when the government of President Siad Barre, was overthrown.