The president of Somalia said Saturday his government is challenged by terrorism _ which he called a "foreign idea" _ and asked the Somali diaspora support him as he struggles to create peace in his war-torn country.
President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed spoke briefly at a breakfast for Books for Africa, a nonprofit that ships millions of donated books to African nations. The address was part of a three-day visit to the Twin Cities _ home to the country's largest Somali population _ to try to find solutions to the violence in Somalia.
Although Ahmed did not say the word "terrorism," he implied it is one of his country's biggest challenges.
"The problems in Somalia are not clans fighting each other today," Ahmed said, through an interpreter. "It is a foreign idea that is trying to take hold in Somalia. A foreign idea that is causing problems in different parts of the world.
"So we ask that Somalia not be left alone to fend for itself," he said.
Ahmed said Somalia will see peace once it has a strong, functioning government that "takes responsibility for its people, for its neighbors in the region and for international security."
Somalia, an impoverished Horn of Africa 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. The country plunged into chaos.
Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, was elected by Somalia's parliament in January, but his government has little control. 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 been killed.
Ahmed's visit to Minnesota includes private meetings with many sectors of the Somali community, as well as a Sunday rally expected to attract 5,000. Some local Somalis hoped Ahmed would publicly condemn terrorist recruiting in Minneapolis.
As many as 20 young Somali men left Minnesota, recruited to possibly fight with al-Shabab. At least three have died in Somalia, and three others have pleaded guilty to terror charges.
Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, said Ahmed assured him when they met Friday that he would denounce the terror group at Sunday's rally.
"The president was very open, very welcoming and very angry about the situation in the country and al-Shabab, and he said wherever they are, they should be fought against," Jamal said. Ahmed was not immediately available for an interview with The Associated Press.
Relatives of the men who left Minnesota want Ahmed to denounce the terrorist group while in Minneapolis and to meet them privately, said Abdirizak Bihi, a community leader and uncle of one young man who died in Somalia. As of Saturday afternoon, a private meeting had not been scheduled. A member of the president's cabinet met with families Friday and offered condolences, Bihi said.
On Saturday, Ahmed met privately with elders, scholars, women and many other segments of the Somali community in Minnesota, which numbered 35,000 in 2007, according to the Census. Some who met with the president said they believe he can bring peace.
"He is open-minded. He is ready to help Somalia," said Eng Hassannow Mohamud, a former cabinet member in Somalia who now lives in the Twin Cities. "He is the person we are waiting for."
The community was buzzing with excitement, and there was an overall sense of support for Ahmed. Even those who had planned to protest Sunday's rally said they have canceled those plans, after meeting with a member of Ahmed's cabinet.
Abdifatah Abdinur, a community leader in Rochester, about an hour south of Minneapolis, said he will not protest because he has been assured Ahmed's government is not like the dictatorships that caused problems in the past.
"I wil do whatever it takes to unite the Somali community," Abdinur said. "We all have different opinions and sometimes we don't all agree 100 percent. But we are going to get behind the one thing that we can all agree: bring back peace in Somalia."
Ahmed will deliver a speech in Chicago on Monday night, then head to Columbus, Ohio, another U.S. city with a large Somali population.