I'm starting to get a better idea of how large of an undertaking that I've gotten myself into. I haven't gotten a lot of detail about al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, notably when exactly it came into existence and how and when it ceased to exist. Though I did get a clearer picture of what the Islamic Courts are about. I also found out why Aweys is considered a terrorist. Here's what I found:
Before Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys got involved with the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in the 1990's, he was head of al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, or Unity of Islam. Osama bin Laden funded al-Itihaad in the early 1990's to make the country a radical Islamic republic. Al-Qa'ida has been committing attacks from that time onward in Somalia. Bin Laden has been suspected being part of the Black Hawk Down incident and training Aideed's men for the 1998 East African Embassy bombings, however that is in dispute by local Somalis and others. U.S. intelligence officials maintain that al-Itihaad al-Islamiya was also involved in planning the embassy attacks and built a training camp at Ras Kamboni from which fighters escaped to Yemen after 911. Others claim however, Al-Itihaad is more complicated and shouldn't be mistaken as just some terrorist organization. Al-Itihaad was claimed to be quite close to Al Barakaat, which the U.S. further claimed was funding terrorism. That claim seems disputable as well, not least because the company was taken off the terrorist watch list.
After al-Itihaad declined in power (still trying to find out what exactly happened to it), he became the UIC's spiritual leader and Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed served as the chairman. UIC militias joined forces through 2004 and 2006 and defeated the warlords who controlled the city. However, they had worked together even earlier in 1999, as the cost endless war and the destruction of the economy weakened the warlords. The courts got most of their money, which they got their arms with and consequently their power, from local businessmen desperate for any law and order. Extremist Islam has not had a very welcome in Somalia traditionally, despite western fears to the contrary, as the courts won't do amputations because it would not be well received among the populace. Outsiders, Saudi Arabia, Libya, UAE, etc., have all tried to get Somalia in line with their own goals in the past through aid, but Somalia only took the money and did what they wanted anyway. Somalis welcomed the courts despite their eagerness to violently punish criminals or deviants, generally considered human rights abuses when done elsewhere, because they brought law and order and defeated the warlords who had so ruined the country for so long. It became the only legal body in Mogadishu to which Somalis could turn for justice and basic court proceedings. Though Islamic, the courts functioned primarily on a clan level, each court only dealing with legal proceedings amongst its own clan.
Here are the articles I put this together from:
Profile: Somalia's Islamist Leader
Islamic Clerics Combat Lawlessness in Somalia
Profile: Somalia's Islamic Courts
U.S. returning to a nightmare called Somalia
US ends Somali banking blacklist