A LEADER with the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, who had a £1.9 million bounty on his head, has surrendered in Somalia, a Somali intelligence official said yesterday.
Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi gave himself up to Somali police in the Gedo region, said the intelligence officer, who insisted on anonymity.
Hersi may have surrendered because he fell out with those loyal to Ahmed Abdi Godane, al-Shabab’s top man who was killed in a United States airstrike earlier this year, the officer said.
Hersi was one of seven top al-Shabab officials whom the Obama administration offered a total £21m in rewards for information leading to their capture in 2012. He had been on the run since falling out with Godane last year.
Despite suffering major losses such as losing major cities, al-Shabab remains a threat in Somalia and the East African region. The group has carried out many terror attacks in Somalia and some in neighbouring countries including Kenya, whose armies are part of the African Union troops bolstering Somalia’s weak United Nations-backed government.
On Christmas day al-Shabab launched an attack at the African Union (AU) base in Mogadishu. Nine people died, including three AU soldiers, in the attack on the complex, which also houses UN offices and western embassies.
Some of the attackers were disguised in Somali National Army uniforms.
Al-Shabab said the attack was aimed at a Christmas party and was in retaliation for the killing of the group’s leader, Godane.
The group also claimed that 14 soldiers were killed but it often exaggerates the number of casualties.
“We targeted the enemies at a time they were celebrating Christmas,” al-Shabab’s military spokesman said.
The US State Department said it was a “cowardly terrorist act” and that American support for the people of Somalia, the African Union Mission in Somalia and Somali government forces would not waver.
Al-Shabab is waging an Islamic insurgency against Somalia’s government that is attempting to rebuild the country after decades of conflict that was sparked by the 1991 ouster of dictator Siad Barre.
The group’s name translates from Arabic as “The Youth”. It claims to have links with al-Qaeda and reportedly has also made some links with other African militant groups, including Boko Haram, in Nigeria.
It is banned as a terrorist group by the US and the UK.
The militants want to topple the Mogadishu government, describing AU troops as “Christian enemies”. They want to impose their strict version of Sharia law.
Although it has been driven out of major strongholds, the group has killed dozens of people in recent attacks including cross-border raids inside Kenya, suicide bombings in Baidoa, in Somalia, and a car bomb that hit a UN convoy near Mogadishu’s airport.
Earlier this month al-Shabab attacked a military base in southern Somalia, killing at least ten soldiers and destroying two military vehicles equipped with anti-aircraft guns.
Al-Shabab controlled much of Mogadishu during the years 2007 to 2011, but was pushed out of Somalia’s capital and other major cities by AU forces. The US and the UN warn that political infighting in Somalia is putting at risk the security gains.
The federal government remains weak and wields little power outside the capital Mogadishu.
Godane died in US air strikes in southern Somalia in September.