Somalia appoints al Shabab co-founder as religion minister

Somali Prime Minister, Hamza Abdi Barre, on Tuesday named a co-founder and spokesman of the Islamist al Shabab as minister for Religious affairs, a move that could either help strengthen the fight against the insurgents or provoke further clan clashes.

Mukhtar Robow had a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head after he co-founded al Qaeda-linked al Shabab and served as the group’s spokesman.

Al Shabab insurgents have killed tens of thousands of people in bombings 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 Shabab when he came to the government side in 2017.

But the relationship soured after he grew too politically powerful. Somalia’s previous government arrested Robow in December 2018 as he campaigned for the regional presidency of southwest state.

Security forces shot dead at least 11 people in the protests that followed, sparking criticism from the United Nations.

Robow’s new job sparked a flurry of hashtags on twitter crowing he had made it #FromPrisonertoMinister. He had been held under house arrest until recently.

His appointment could help strengthen government forces in his native Bakool region, where insurgents held substantial amounts of territory but where Robow also commanded support. Or it could fan flames with the region’s president, who saw him as a political rival.

“We welcome his appointment. The move will advance reconciliation and will serve as a good example for higher level al-Shabab defections,” said political analyst, Mohamed Mohamud.

“Al Shabab members who might be thinking of surrendering … can dream of serving their country at the highest levels.”

New President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, elected by lawmakers in May, has promised to take the fight to the insurgents after three years in which his predecessor, consumed by political infighting, took little action against al Shabab.

That allowed the insurgents to build up substantial reserves of cash and carry out attacks over a wide swath of Somalia. Last week, scores of al Shabab fighters and Ethiopian security forces were killed in clashes along the two nations’ shared border. -Reuters

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