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Al-Shabaab Defector Known as Group’s ‘Founding Father’ Runs for Office in Somalia 

Former Deputy Leader and spokesman of Somalia's Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab rebels, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, also known as Abu Mansur, speaks to journalists on August 15, 2017 in Mogadishu. Abu Mansur left Al-Shabaab in 2013 after falling out with its leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed a year later, in September …
MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images

The former second-in-command and “founding father” of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab terrorist organization in Somalia, considered the deadliest jihadist group in Africa, “has a good chance of winning” the election next month for president of the country’s South West regional state, the Associated Press (AP) reports Tuesday. 

AP notes that Mukhtar Robow, also known as Abu Mansour, had a $5 million U.S. reward until recently, adding:

If Mukhtar Robow’s campaign for a regional presidency goes forward, observers say the man who once praised Osama bin Laden and tried to impose an Islamic state has a good chance at winning next month’s election.

Ever since surprising Somalis by defecting to a delighted government last year, the former al-Shabab spokesman and founding father has not been shy. Robow openly discussed his break with hardliners that led him to quit the extremist group — “I disagreed with their creed, which does not serve Islamic religion,” he said — and the threats that pushed him to defect after years of living in the safety of his clan.

Al-Shabaab now considers Robow, identified by AP as “al-Shabab’s highest-profile defector,” an apostate.

He is running in his native South-West state region. The election is scheduled for November 17. 

Citing standing international sanctions imposed on him, including from the United States, Somalia’s federal government has reportedly deemed Robow ineligible to run.

“The Ministry of Security, in regard to the agreements reached with the International Community in the fight against terrorism, and respecting the right of citizen to run for public office, asserts that Mukhtar Robow (Abu Mansur) did not complete the implementation of the requirements for the removal of sanctions on him,” the African country declared in a statement issued October 5, according Somalia’s Garowe Online news outlet.

However, AP acknowledges: 

The problem, observers say, is that Somalia’s federal government is in such a state that no one knows who has the authority to decide who can be a candidate. The presidency did not respond to questions. The United Nations mission in Somalia, which provides electoral support, would not comment.

On top of that, relations between Somalia’s federal government and its regional ones are so bad that cooperation is almost severed, victim of the wary politics in the Horn of Africa nation recovering from decades of warlord-led fighting and devastating al-Shabab attacks. 

Some South-West state residents and lawmakers have protested what they referred to as the federal government’s unwarranted meddling in the upcoming vote, AP points out.  

Robow announced his candidacy on October 4. 

“After receiving requests from the people of this region and their intellectuals, I have decided to run for the president of this state in the coming election,” Robow told a rally of hundreds of supporters, according to Voice of America (VOA). “I have accepted the requests and, if God wills, we will win and peace will prevail.”

The former al-Shabaab leader has not shown any sign of pulling out of the race despite the federal government’s opposition.

“He is running against eight other candidates, including the incumbent, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan,” an editorial published by Kenyan newspaper the Star notes.

According to the editorial, Somalia’s move to prevent Robow from running is a “mistake.” 

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