Image: Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed
Craig Lassig  /  AP
Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed went to the Twin Cities — home of the largest Somali population in the U.S. — to meet with  meeting with members of Minnesota's Somali community to build support for a stable government in his country.
updated 10/4/2009 7:52:58 PM ET 2009-10-04T23:52:58

The president of Somalia on Sunday denounced the recruiting of young men from Minnesota's huge Somali community for terrorist activity in his war-ravaged homeland, and said he plans to work with the U.S. government to bring those still alive back home.

President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed spoke with The Associated Press while visiting the Minneapolis area, where authorities believe as many as 20 young Somali men — possibly recruited by a vision of jihad to fight — returned to the impoverished nation over the last two years.

At least three have died in Somalia, including one who authorities believe was the first American suicide bomber. Three others have pleaded guilty in the U.S. to terror-related charges.

"We believe this is a wrong action, that these young men were wronged, they were robbed out of their life. Their parents were wronged," Ahmed told the AP through an interpreter. "The laws of the United States were violated. The security of Somalia was violated. So we condemn (them) without reservation."

Ahmed was in the Minneapolis area — home of the largest Somali population in the U.S. — to build support as his government tries to bring peace to the Horn of Africa country that has been plagued by violence for decades. The nation of 7 million people has not had a functioning government since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew a dictator and then turned on each other.

Working to prevent more recruiting
Ahmed was elected by Somalia's parliament in January, but his government has little control. A group called al-Shabab, which the U.S. says has ties to al-Qaida, has taken over most of Somalia and boosted its numbers with foreign fighters. There are near-daily battles in Mogadishu, the country's capital, and tens of thousands of civilians have died.

Many of the country's former leaders, scholars and other dignitaries relocated to the Minneapolis and St. Paul areas. Many were educated and started successful businesses in the region and send millions of dollars back to Somalia.

The Somali community in Minnesota numbered 35,000 in 2007, according to the Census.

Ahmed told the AP that the young men who left the area "were stolen and taken without the knowledge of their parents and imams." He said he met with imams from area mosques and "we agreed that they were really sorry with what happened, which tarnished their image and that of our religion."

He said the Somali government agrees to work with state and federal governments, as well as imams and parents, to prevent more recruiting.

When asked what the Somali government could do to help, he said "we hope to reach out to these young men and explain to them how wrong what they are doing is, and that they should return to the safety of their families."

Building suppport for Somali goverment
Ahmed met Sunday afternoon with relatives of some of the young men who died. They told him about their sons and what had happened to them.

"He gave us very hearty condolences," said Abdirizak Bihi, a community leader and uncle of one of the boys. "We feel much better."

Ahmed told Bihi that he thinks about Bihi's nephew, 18-year-old Burhan Hassan, every day and is reminded of the tragedy of young lives lost to terrorism, Bihi said.

The president also said he wants an ongoing relationship with the families in Minnesota and to work with them to "stop the evil at work," Bihi said.

Ahmed is in Minnesota for three days as he tries to build support for his struggling government. He's met with scholars, university students, former Somali leaders, women, elders and others. A public rally for Sunday in Minneapolis was expected to attract 5,000 people.

He also plans trips to Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, another city with a large Somali population, as he continues to advocate for peace in Somalia.

His message was resonating in Minnesota, where he was welcomed with support. But many know he has a long struggle ahead.

"To support the government is the only solution to bring back peace," said Eng Hassannow Mohamud, a former cabinet member in Somalia who now lives in the Twin Cities. "We really want to help. ... We are ready to take our part."

Ahmed said he has strategies for rebuilding Somalia such as to build up security, education and health care systems. On the humanitarian front, he said, the government needs to reach out to the hundreds of thousands of Somalis who are displaced, both in and outside the country, and get them assistance they need.

He said he hopes it will "not be long" before he brings peace to Somalia. He knows he needs to rid his country of terrorism.

"We ourselves cannot stay there if we don't do that," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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