An al-Shabab military commander has defected and surrendered to Somali government forces, authorities in Mogadishu said.
Minister of Information Abdirahman Omar Osman confirmed on Twitter that Bishar Mumin Farah had surrendered Wednesday in the south-central part of the country, in Hiran region.
Al-Shabaab Commander in Mudug region called Mr Bishar Mumin Farah defects to Somali National Army in Hiiraan region of #Somalia— Abdirahman O. Osman (@engyarisow) May 31, 2017
A Somali general who interviewed the defector told VOA the al-Shabab commander had been sent to Hiran, a large and populous area of central Somalia, "in order to execute attacks during the holy month of Ramadan."
General Mohamed Ahmed Tredice said Farah left his camp around 1 a.m. Wednesday and surrendered to government troops at sunrise. He also handed over two AK-47 automatic rifles and ammunition.
"He is a young man who had been brainwashed," but who eventually realized that al-Shabab's activities were evil and that he no longer wanted to be a part of the militant group, the general said.
Before deciding to defect, Farah had been in contact with some of his relatives who are members of the government forces. They were among the troops that received him Wednesday.
Farah is the first high-profile member of al-Shabab known to have defected since early April, when President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo offered a two-month amnesty to members of the extremist group. Several "foot soldiers," rank-and-file members of al-Shabab, had turned themselves in previously.
Before coming to Hiran region, security sources told VOA Somali, the defector had been al-Shabab's deputy commander of militias in Harardhere, the biggest town controlled by the militant group in Mudug region, in north-central Somalia.
Tredice said Farah also had been a deputy commander of al-Shabab units in three other parts of the country — in Hiran, the Middle Shabelle and Galgudud regions.
Estimates of Hiran's population range up to and above 1 million, but like much of the demographic data available for Somalia, are highly uncertain. The government's Population Estimation Survey in 2015 listed Hiran's total population at above 500,000, with the majority of the region's people either nomads or rural dwellers.
The commander of the Somali army's 52nd Battalion said Farah's surrender clearly would be a setback for the militants.
"We welcomed him," he added, "but we'll transfer him to the relevant government agencies, intelligence and the courts."
VOA's Falastine Iman contributed to this report.