Local Somalis watch and waitby Sea Stachura, Minnesota Public Radio
More than 14,000 displaced Somalis live in Minnesota. Many Somalis in the metro area support the new group, which this week declared it controls the conflict-ridden country. The Minnesota Somalis are closely watching the situation because it may have an impact on their own futures.
Minneapolis, Minn. — It's been almost a month since hardline Islamists overthrew warlords in Somalia's capital Mogadishu. The militia, known as the Supreme Islamic Courts Council, is a grassroots organization.
However, the U.S. says at least one of its leaders has ties to a terrorist organization. The Courts Union now claims authority over all of Somalia, over the protests of the internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government.
The events unfolding thousands of miles away are being closely watched by Somalis in Minnesota.
It's the end of Friday afternoon prayer, and the upstairs mosque on Lake St. in Minneapolis is emptying in a rush. Imam Hassan Mohamud says what's happening in Somalia is constantly on his mind and those in his mosque. Overall he says people are very happy the group, which until recently was called the Islamic Courts Union, has taken control of Mogadishu.
"This now you could call the first time the Islamic courts are trying to bring the Somalis and their faith connected to their Islamic identity," he says. "For that reason they are getting overwhelming support from the people."
Mohamud says Somalis have grown increasingly committed to their faith. It's happening in their homeland and here in Minnesota. He says it's become synonymous with Somali identity.
"I visited one time and I found like every mosque, whether it's small or big mosque, are full," he says. "Every type of prayer you go it's full of people. And here it's the same thing because those people reflect to each other."
Within the larger Somali community, opinion is divided over whether the Courts Union is the best organization to govern the country. But Ali Galaydh says the majority are simply happy to see peace after 15 years of fighting.
Galaydh served as Somalia's prime minister from 2000 to 2001, and is a professor at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota.
"This is a most welcome measure," Galaydh says. "And I think that's why the Somalis in Mogadishu and in Somalia and outside, including the ones here in the Twin Cities, will give the benefit of the doubt to the Islamic Courts. But that's exactly what it is, the benefit of the doubt, and not to pass judgment on them."
Galaydh says the Supreme Islamic Courts Council, at its start, represented a variety of viewpoints.
But that's not what's getting the most attention from the international press. Recently, two of the group's leaders publicly claimed authority over the whole of the country. And the new head of the Courts Union, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, is linked to what the U.S. calls a terrorist organization.
Dahir Aweys has also led numerous military campaigns in Somalia, including campaigns against leaders of the current transitional government. He's reportedly a strong believer in Shariah law, which is loosely based on the Koran and can advocate punishments as severe as public beheadings.
Galaydh believes Dahir Aweys will need to consult with other groups, including the weak Transitional Federal Government.
"So Hassan Dahir Aweys was known," Galaydh says. "At the same time, the perception among Somalis is that he's more of a sheik and a leader who is not tied down to his sub-clan, or even his clan."
Galaydh is more worried by the possibility of international troops in Somalia. The African Union is considering lifting its arms embargo on Somalia. The transitional federal government has requested the move, in order to bring in troops to keep the peace. However, Ethiopia and Somalia have often been at war.
"When one hears of lifting the arms embargo and sending international troops, in the minds of Somalis that's sending Ethiopian troops to Somalia," says Galayadh. "And all bets are off then."
All of these delicate complications matter a great deal to Somalis living in Minnesota. Most have family still in the country or in refugee camps. And many, like Somali Mai TV editor Mohamed Issa, want to return to Somalia.
"I want to go back and go there, and help them with the problem they are having," Issa says. "That's the way it is. Everybody has to go back and solve the problem."
Issa isn't opposed to Shariah law. To his mind, Islamic law gives everyone a voice in governance. He hopes to have his say as well.