The former number two leader of Somalia’s al-Shabab, who is now a candidate in a regional election, was arrested Thursday prompting violent protests in which several people were killed, officials said.
Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, previously al-Shabab’s spokesman, was arrested by Ethiopian troops that are part of the African Union forces supporting the Somali government, Nur Ahmed, an electoral official in Somalia’s Southwest state, told The Associated Press.
Robow was flown from Baidoa to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, said a Somali intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Robow, who was trained by al-Qaida in Afghanistan, was one of the founders of al-Shabab in 2006 and served as its number-two leader for several years. In 2012, the U.S. government offered $5 million for information on his whereabouts.
In 2013, fearing for his life, Robow went into hiding and began secret negotiations with the Somali government. The reward was dropped before he defected from al-Shabab. Although he is blamed for directing much of the rebels’ violence, Robow is generally popular in the Southwest region.
Robow’s controversial campaign for southwest region president exposed the rift between Somalia’s federal government based in Mogadishu and the regional government.
Worried about Robow’s popularity, the federal government had sent at least one high-level official to try to persuade him to step aside.
A statement by the internal security ministry said Robow was not eligible to run for the post because he is still under international sanctions. The move angered his supporters in the region and within the Somali parliament and comes amid high tension in the Somali capital, where lawmakers are threatening to impeach President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.