Somali General Mohamad Ali Samantar, a former prime minister, vice president and one of the country's most visible ex-generals, died Friday in the eastern U.S. state of Virginia. He was 85.

General Mohamed Ali Sharman, a retired senior Somali military commander and Samantar colleague, told VOA Somali that Samantar had been sick for months and died at a hospital. Sharman had once described the late general as one of the principal architects of the once-powerful Somali National Army.

Samantar had lived in the United States since the collapse in the early 1990s of the government of the late dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, whose ouster after decades in power sent the country spiraling deeper into civil war.

In 2004, Samantar was the target of a lawsuit filed by Somali immigrants now living in the United States who accused the general of human rights abuses in the early 1980s during Siad Barre's rule. Samantar was ordered by a U.S. court in 2012 to pay more than $20 million to the plaintiffs, who cited torture and other abuses carried out by officials operating under the general's command.

U.S. courts had earlier ruled that Samantar could not claim immunity from prosecution as an official of a foreign government.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year declined to review the ruling that ordered Samantar to pay damages to the plaintiffs.