The former number-two leader of al-Shabab says he has quit the Somalia-based militant group.
Mukhtar Robow, also known as Abu Mansour, made the announcement to journalists at a Mogadishu hotel on Tuesday.
“I would like to state to the Somali people and the international community that I quit al-Shabab five years and seven months ago and that I’m not a member of the group,” he said, reading a prepared statement.
He said he left the group because of differences with other al-Shabab leaders.
“I quit because of misunderstanding and differences over the ideology, which is not in the interest of the religion [Islam], people and the country,” he said.
The former al-Shabab official indicated he is holding talks with the Somali government and said "I’m hopeful we can pave the way for a lasting peace.”
Robow surrendered to the Somali government on Sunday in the Bakool region after several days of heavy fighting between his militia and al-Shabab fighters. He said al-Shabab wanted to kill him.
“For five years and seven months I was living in the jungle where I was attacked [by al-Shabab]. They wanted to kill me but I defended myself,” he said.
Robow was a founder of al-Shabab and served as the group's deputy leader under longtime emir Ahmed Abdi Godane. The two men were known to disagree over tactics and strategy in al-Shabab's war to overthrow the Somali government and install a strict Islamist state.
In 2012, the U.S. government offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Robow's capture or death. The U.S. dropped the reward offer in June, as al-Shabab closed in on Robow's hideout.
A former senior intelligence official noted that Robow did not express remorse about his role with al-Shabab.
Abdi Hassan Hussein, the former director of the U.S.-backed Puntland Intelligence Agency (PIA), says Robow failed to reject al-Shabab’s ideology.
“He did not make it clear, as Somali people were expecting and waiting, that al-Shabab’s objectives and principles have no basis in Islamic law and not suitable for the Somali people,” he said.
Hussein says Robow only addressed differences he had with al-Shabab and did not reject the ideology itself.
“You can tell he is still sympathetic, still has feelings for the organization,” he said. “He should have apologized and asked for forgiveness for what he did to the Somali people on behalf of al-Shabab.”
Human Rights Watch has urged the Somali government to investigate Robow for alleged human rights abuses.
It said Robow had a leadership role in al-Shabab at a time when HRW documented “indiscriminate attacks on civilians, forced recruitment of children, and other abuses against residents."
“Investigate Robow’s role and ensure that those responsible for the worst abuses aren’t able to escape just punishment,” the rights group said in a brief statement Tuesday.
The Somali government has not commented on the defection and Robow's statement.
Former PIA director Hussein said he believes the defection of Robow is a positive step and good news for the government.
“It’s an example to other al-Shabab leaders who still have not found the right conditions to leave the group to emulate,” he said.