Somalia Appoints Ex-Deputy Head of Al-Qaeda Offshoot as Minister of Religion

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Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre on Tuesday appointed Mukhtar Robow – a former deputy head of al-Shabaab, a Somali branch of the international jihadist terror organization al-Qaeda – as Somalia’s new minister of religion, Reuters reported.

“After much deliberation with the president and the public, I have named ministers who have training and experience and who will fulfill their duties,” Prime Minister Barre said on Aug. 2 before naming several cabinet-appointed cabinets, including Robow. “I ask parliament to approve the cabinet.”

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The Somali parliament approved Barre as Prime Minister of Somalia on June 25 after he was nominated for the position by Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Robow, also known as Abu Mansour, was in Somalia’s presidential palace on Aug. 2 when Barre announced his new cabinet members to the press. Somali security authorities had released Robow from detention at Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) headquarters just 24 hours earlier, Voice of America (VOA) reported Tuesday.

Somali government authorities had subjected Robow to detention or house arrest in recent years. A joint unit of Somalia and African Union security forces arrested Robow in Baidoa in December 2018 when he was campaigning for a regional presidency in Somalia’s southwestern state. Somalia’s previous government ordered the detention of Robow in late 2018 to prevent him from taking power in the region, where he enjoys significant public support as an indigenous resident.

Robow’s arrest in December 2018 sparked violent protests against the measure in Baidoa. Somali security forces reacted harshly to the riots. At least 15 people died in the clashes, “including soldiers and civilians,” the TSWT reported at the time.

Former deputy leader and spokesman for Somalia’s al-Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab rebels, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, also known as Abu Mansur, speaks with journalists in Mogadishu on August 15, 2017. (MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/TSWT/Getty Images)

VOA recalled Robow’s dual history of serving both the Somali government and al-Shabaab on Aug. 2, writing:

Robow rose to prominence as deputy chief of defense for the Somali Union of Islamic Courts in 2006, when the group temporarily seized control of most of south-central Somalia and defeated a coalition of US-backed warlords.

Robow went on to serve as the official spokesman for al-Shabab and later as the group’s deputy leader. In 2008, the US declared al-Shabab a terrorist organization. In 2012, the US offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Robow’s arrest, though that offer was withdrawn in June 2017.

“Before the establishment of al-Shabab, Robow trained together with al-Qaida in Afghanistan,” said VOA.

Al-Shabaab emerged in Somalia around 2006 as a direct split from Al-Qaeda, an international jihadist terror organization founded around 1988. Al-Qaeda made headlines on August 1 when Washington announced that the group’s last leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed on July 30 by a US military airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan.

VOA, a US government-funded broadcaster, further revealed on Tuesday that an interview it held with Robow in October 2021 led to his latest arrest by Somalia’s NISA, which ended on August 2.

“In August 2019, he was moved from prison to house arrest,” VOA noted, referring to Robow’s detention following his December 2018 arrest in Baidoa.

“He was taken back to NISA headquarters after giving an interview to VOA Somali in October last year,” the broadcaster reported.

During the October 2021 interview in question, Robow alleged to VOA that he had been “kidnapped” by Somali government forces, who he said were holding him for political purposes because they did not want him to run for government posts. Robow publicly condemned al-Shabaab in 2013 before attempting to run for public office in Somalia for the first time in 2017.

Somalia’s newly elected president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, took office in May. He campaigned on promises to crack down on al-Shabaab’s Islamist insurgency in Somalia. Al-Shabaab has reportedly grown stronger over the past three years, during which Mohamud’s predecessor, former Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, “was consumed by political infighting, [and] took little action against al-Shabaab,” Reuters recalled Tuesday.

“That enabled the insurgents to build up significant cash reserves and carry out attacks across much of Somalia. Last week, dozens of Al Shabaab fighters and Ethiopian security forces were killed in clashes along the two nations’ common border,” the news agency noted on Aug. 2.

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