Abdullahi Yusuf; led Somalia for four turbulent years; at 78

mohamed sheikh nor/associated press/file 2007
President Abdullahi Yusuf was led to a meeting in Mogadishu.

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Abdullahi Yusuf, who rose from a guerrilla warrior to president of Somalia only to watch his administration crumble under a ferocious Islamic insurgency, died Friday in Dubai. He was 78.

Mr. Yusuf served as president of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia from 2004-2008.

The Somali government announced a three-day mourning period for Mr. Yusuf, said government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman. Osman said Mr. Yusuf died Friday morning in a hospital in Dubai. The family announced that the death was caused by complications of pneumonia.


Mr. Yusuf has suffered health problems for years and underwent a liver transplant in 1996. In 2006, he survived a suicide car bombing that killed his brother and several bodyguards, one of several assassination attempts.

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Mr. Yusuf’s administration struggled to assert control in Somalia after assuming power in 2004, when the first government in 13 years was formed with the help of the United Nations. At his inauguration, held in Nairobi because of security concerns, Mr. Yusuf pronounced himself “a man of peace’’ and urged his countrymen to begin to forgive each other.

After an Islamic alliance took control of the Somali capital in 2006, Mr. Yusuf invited Ethiopian troops into the country.

The Ethiopian advance quickly routed the Islamist forces, but the memories of previous Somali-Ethiopian wars and the presence of soldiers from a Christian nation in a mainly Muslim country made the Somali government unpopular.

It also encouraged Ethiopia’s archenemy Eritrea to offer the Islamists assistance, making Somalia a proxy war zone. The Islamists quickly launched an Iraq-style insurgency.


Already under internal attack, Mr. Yusuf’s government was also weakened by internal struggles. The father of four was operating far from his power base in the semiautonomous northern region of Puntland, and clan squabbles and public disagreements with his prime minister over spending foreign aid meant that many Somalis began to see the government as divided and corrupt, as well as ineffective.

Somalia has not had a fully functioning government since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown. Barre, a former military colleague of Mr. Yusuf’s, had imprisoned Mr. Yusuf after he refused to take part in the coup that bought Barre to power in 1969. While in prison, Mr. Yusuf became friends with warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, whose battle with US soldiers in the early 1990s inspired the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.’’

Three years after his release in 1975, Mr. Yusuf tried to overthrow Barre, but failed and fled to Kenya, where he recruited members for his guerrilla movement. Mr. Yusuf, who had studied in Italy and the Soviet Union, was backed by the socialist government of Ethiopia, which was said to have paid him $1 million to overthrow Barre. But Mr. Yusuf later quarreled with the Ethiopians over their claims to Somali territory. Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam imprisoned him in 1985, and he was released only when the regime fell in 1991.

He spent much of the 1990s in his native Puntland, where he sought semiautonomous status in an effort to save the region from the chaos engulfing the rest of the nation. Aides described his style as ruthless, and many of his opponents were jailed or killed. There were also sporadic clashes over territory with the region of Somaliland, and he was deposed for a year over his attempts to increase his term of office in 2001.

Mr. Yusuf regained control of Puntland in 2002 with Ethiopian help, forging a new alliance with the new government. He also fought with Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, a leading Islamist whom the US accuses of having sponsored terrorism and is a key figure in the present insurgency.


Mr. Yusuf was elected president in 2004, having systematically undermined other attempts at forming a government.