The new 26-member cabinet by PM Hamza Abdi Barre has captured the deadlines of local and some international media outlets after including his line-up a former prominent Al-Shabaab deputy leader and spokesman Mukhtar Robow.
Robow was released from NISA detention in Mogadishu, where he was held since his arrest in Baidoa in Dec 2018 hours before his appointment as minister for endowment and religious affairs.
This came after a leadership change in Somalia last May and the president who jailed him – Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo lost re-election in the recent presidential election in Mogadishu.
Who is Mukhtar Robow?
He is not new to the people of Somalia but his shift to politics and holding a public office has drawn talk among Somalis. Robow surrendered to the government in August 2017.
Robow, 53, was born in Hudur, the regional capital of Bakool near the Ethiopian border on October 10, 1969. He is a co-founder of Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda faction in Somalia. He held the positions of spokesman and deputy leader of the group between 2006 and 2015.
In 2015, he defected from Al-Shabaab due to differences and fallout over ideology issues with the group’s leader Ahmed Godane, who killed all his opponents, except him and Dahir Aweys, who managed to escape the assassination in Barawe port city in the Lower Shabelle region.
Since ditching the group, he has been the main target having survived an attack aimed to kill him in 2016, thanks to his loyal fighters protected him in Abal, a mall area near his hometown, Hudur for two years, before handing himself up to Somali government in 2017 through mediation.
On US blacklist
The US has offered a $5 million bounty for information leading to Robow’s capture on 7 June 2012 since he was the mouthpiece and active leading figure within the terror group in Somalia.
On 23 June 2017, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) removed him from its Reward for Justice (RFJ) list following discussions with the Somali government.
The US has been fighting against Al-Shabaab for almost a decade and killed top leaders, including its founders Aden Ayro killed on 1st May 2008 in an airstrike on his house in Dhusamareb, central Somalia, and his successor Ahmed Godane, who was also killed in a drone strike on his vehicle near Barawe, a port city in Lower Shabelle region of southern Somalia on 1st Sep 2014.
In December 2018, Robow was arrested by Ethiopian forces in Baidoa city, 245Kms south of Mogadishu under the order of Farmajo to stop him from running for president of the Southwest state.
Then he was transferred to the capital and handed over to the Intelligence agency [NISA] under the leadership of Fahad Yasin, who turned the political situation in Somalia upside down by waging a war against regional leaders and silencing the president’s critics, using the security forces.
Robow’s arrest sparked a street protest in Baidoa that led to the shooting of 11 of his supporters by the police. UN envoy Haysom who condemned the civilian killing was issued with Persona non grata by Farmajo in early 2019 and expelled from the country.
On August 2, the ex-Al-Shabaab deputy leader appeared on the list of the new cabinet announced by PM Hamza Abdi Barre. He becomes the Minister for Endowment, Religious Affairs, and Counter-terrorism Ideology. His appointment has been trending on social media all day long.
Many believed that Robow was picked for his in-depth knowledge of Al-Shabaab and will be used as a tool by the government to dissuade the youth from joining Al-Shabaab based on religious convictions and to help his former fellow militants defect from the group.