Al Shabaab’s for­mer No.2 leader runs for of­fice in So­ma­lia

If Mukhtar Robow’s cam­paign for a re­gional pres­i­dency goes for­ward, ob­servers say the man who once praised Osama Bin Laden has a good chance at win­ning ne[t month’s election

The Gulf Today - - MIDDLE EAST -

NAIROBI: The nor­mal-look­ing cam­paign rally in So­ma­lia’s cap­i­tal this month was any­thing but. Dozens of peo­ple in T-shirts bear­ing the smil­ing can­di­date’s im­age and “Se­cu­rity and Jus­tice” were prais­ing the for­mer No.2 leader of Africa’s dead­li­est ex­trem­ist group, the Alqaida-linked Al Shabaab, who un­til re­cently was the tar­get of a $5 mil­lion US re­ward.

Stunned, So­ma­lia’s fed­eral government is in an awk­ward spot. If Mukhtar Robow’s cam­paign for a re­gional pres­i­dency goes for­ward, ob­servers say the man who once praised Osama Bin Laden has a good chance at win­ning next month’s election.

Ever since sur­pris­ing So­ma­lis by de­fect­ing to a de­lighted government last year, the for­mer Al Shabaab spokesman and found­ing fa­ther has not been shy. Robow openly dis­cussed his break with hard­lin­ers that led him to quit the ex­trem­ist group — “I dis­agreed with their creed, which does not serve Is­lamic re­li­gion,” he said — and the threats that pushed him to de­fect after years of liv­ing in the safety of his clan. Then he do­nated blood in a show of sup­port after So­ma­lia’s dead­li­est at­tack, the Oc­to­ber 2017 truck bomb­ing in Mo­gadishu that killed over 500 peo­ple.

Now the lanky, bearded Robow, Al Shabaab’s high­est-proile de­fec­tor, seeks to lead his na­tive South­west region de­spite a sharp “no” from the fed­eral government. The in­te­rior min­istry says he’s in­el­i­gi­ble to run be­cause he re­mains un­der in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions.

The prob­lem, ob­servers say, is that So­ma­lia’s fed­eral government is in such a state that no one knows who has the author­ity to de­cide who can be a can­di­date. The pres­i­dency did not re­spond to ques­tions. The United Na­tions mis­sion in So­ma­lia, which pro­vides elec­toral sup­port, would not com­ment.

“Who has the last call on who runs? No­body knows,” Hus­sein Sheikh-ali, a for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser and chair of the Hi­raal In­sti­tute who has known Robow for years, told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

On top of that, re­la­tions be­tween So­ma­lia’s fed­eral government and its re­gion­alone­sare­sobadthat­co­op­er­a­tio­nis al­most sev­ered, vic­tim of the wary pol­i­tics in the Horn of Africa na­tion re­cov­er­ing from decades of war­lord-led ight­ing and dev­as­tat­ing Al Shabab at­tacks. Over the week­end, South­west res­i­dents and some mem­bers of par­lia­ment protested what they called the fed­eral government’s med­dling in the vote.

Mukhtar Robow

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