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MOGADISHU, Aug 2 (Reuters) – Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre on Tuesday appointed a co-founder and spokesman for the Islamist al-Shabaab as religious affairs minister, a move that could either help strengthen the fight against the insurgents, or provoke other clan attacks. clashes.
Mukhtar Robow had a US$5 million bounty on his head after co-founding al-Qaeda-linked al Shabaab and serving as the group’s spokesman.
Al Shabaab insurgents have killed tens of thousands of people in bomb attacks in their fight to overthrow Somalia’s Western-backed central government and implement its interpretation of Islamic law.
Robow split from the group in 2013 and publicly denounced al Shabaab when he came to the government side in 2017.
But the relationship deteriorated after he became too powerful politically. The previous Somali government arrested Robow in December 2018 while he was campaigning for the regional presidency in the southwestern state.
Security forces shot dead at least 11 people during the protests that followed, drawing criticism from the United Nations.
Robow’s new job sparked a flurry of hashtags on twitter chanting that he made it #FromPrisonertoMinister. He had been under house arrest until recently.
His appointment could help bolster government forces in his home region of Bakool, where insurgents hold significant amounts of territory but where Robow also commands support. Or it could fan the flames with the region’s president, who sees him as a political rival.
“We welcome his appointment. This decision will advance reconciliation and set a good example for other high-level defections from al-Shabab,” said political analyst Mohamed Mohamud.
“Al Shabaab members who might be thinking of surrendering…can dream of serving their country at the highest level.”
New President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, elected by lawmakers in May, has vowed to lead the fight against insurgents after three years in which his predecessor, consumed by political infighting, took little action against al Shabaab.
This allowed the insurgents to build up large cash reserves and carry out attacks across a large swath of Somalia. Last week, dozens of Al Shabaab fighters and Ethiopian security forces were killed in clashes along the two nations’ common border.
Supplementary by Abdi Sheikh and Daud Yusuf in Nairobi, Kenya; Written by Katharine Houreld and George Obulutsa; Editing by Estelle Shirbon
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