Somali pres warns of al-Qaeda

2009-06-07 18:32

Rome -Somali president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, warned on Sunday that there was a "real risk" of all-Qaeda setting up a "strategic zone" for its network in Somalia, as it did in Afghanistan.

Sharif said al-Qaeda had been eyeing the Horn of Africa nation with its long coastline and cells of the extremist group were already established there.

"Al-Qaeda sees Somalia as a strategic zone like Afghanistan to establish its network. We have become a priority", said Ahmed, who will travel to Italy on Tuesday for an international conference on his country, a former Italian colony.

"We're not talking about the Somalia of the 1990s. There are now al-Qaeda cells in the country. It is no longer just Somalia's problem, it's the world's problem," he said.

"The international community has a duty to protect Somalis and the government from al-Qaeda. It must do it for the good of everyone."

Stressing the "long and good relations" between Somalia and Italy, he urged Rome to take the lead in getting the rest of the European Union to support his fledgling government under siege from a hardline Islamist insurgency.

Sharif's government, which has been confined to parts of the capital Mogadishu, took power in January after a UN-sponsored reconciliation process.