A recent video from Somalia’s Al-Shabaab shows an American named Sheikh Abu Mansoor 'Al-Ameriki,' reaching out to Somalis in Europe and America to join the jihad in this small African nation.
It is believed that Abu Mansoor is now in Somalia training and advising new recruits from the West. Hundreds of Somali men have returned to participate in terrorism and acts of piracy, including one business student from London who killed himself in a suicide bombing that killed 20 people.
It is also believed that foreign fighters were involved in recent fighting in Mogadishu that has so far left more than 200 dead.
Islamist hardliners now control large parts of the capital and most of the Southern part of the country, while the Somali government and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) control small pockets of Mogadishu including the airport, the seaports, and the presidential residence.
On May 14, hard-line opposition leader and Al-Shabaab founder Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys accused a UN special envoy of "destroying" Somalia, and dismissed any talks with the interim government.
Aweys is seen as an influential figure among insurgents in Somalia where he has headed numerous Islamist groups since the 1990s. Here are some key facts about him:
* The 62-year-old cleric was born on the outskirts in the Galguduud region of central Somalia. He is part of the 'Ayr' wing of the 'Habr Gedir,' a sub-clan of tribal Somalis.
* In 1972, Aweys joined dictator Mohamed Siad Barre's army, and graduated from the Somali military academy. Aweys rose to the rank of colonel and was decorated with a silver medal for bravery in the 1977 war against Ethiopia.
* In the 1990s, Aweys was vice chairman and military commander for 'Al-Ittihad al-Islami,' which at the time was Somalia's largest militant Islamist group. The group was soundly defeated in battles against Ethiopia and Somali warlords backed by Addis Ababa.
* The UN has Aweys on a list of people "belonging to or associated with" Al-Qaeda. Aweys denies such a links.
* Aweys led the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) with President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed before Ethiopian troops expelled them from Mogadishu in late 2006. The ICU was a group of Sharia Courts that united themselves to form a rival militant administration to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia.
* It was during this time that Aweys founded Al Shabaab, the armed-wing of the ICU, which soon after its expulsion from Mogadishu turned into an underground terrorist organization.
The Al-Shabaab-led insurgency since early 2007 has killed some 17,700 people and wounded almost 30,000 others, human rights experts report.
[CONTRIBUTERS: Reuters, AP, Mogadishu Now.com]