Sun Aug 13, 2017 1:37PM
Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur, a former commander of Somalia's al-Shabaab militants.
Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur, a former commander of Somalia's al-Shabaab militants.

Somalia has announced that a senior commander of the militant al-Shabaab group has finally defected to the country’s military.

A military official said on Sunday that Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur, a former spokesman and deputy leader of al-Shabaab, had defected to the government forces.

Colonel Nur Mohamed, a Somali military officer, said that Robow was now in the southwestern town of Hudur and officials in the capital Mogadishu were waiting for him.

“Robow and his seven bodyguards are now in Hudur with local officials. He will be flown to Mogadishu soon,” said Mohamed, without elaborating on what had finally persuaded Robow to officially defect to Somali’s military.

Sheikh Robow and his loyalists had been laying low in jungles of Bay and Bakool since the commander broke ties with Shabaab four years ago. He was target of several attacks by Shabaab militants who tried to kill or capture him. The government said in June that it had dispatched soldiers to protect the militant commander and that negotiations were underway to convince him to defect.

It was not immediately clear whether Robow’s decision to defect was related to a move by the United States government two months ago to take off the notorious militant commander from a list of wanted terrorists. Washington removed a USD five-million reward for his capture and exonerated him from charges of sponsoring terrorism after five years.

The Somali government, which still grapples with Shabaab-led militancy in some areas six years after the group was purged from the capital, hopes that recruiting Sheikh Robow could give the military more operational freedom in Bay and Bakool which could effectively slice Shabaab's operational territory in two.

Some, however, have criticized the defection, saying Robow should stand trial for the atrocities he has committed during years of insurgency.