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Veteran Al-Shabaab foreign commando defects in Somalia

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online

MOGADISHU, Somalia - A senior Al-Shabaab foreign commando defected after irreconcilable differences, Investigative Dossier reports, adding that "he had risen ranks rapidly".

Zubair Al-Muhajir, joined the Al-Qaida associated group in 2006 when it had just ventured into terrorism, rising through ranks rapidly, the Dossier reported.

The Briton was administered to the Al-Shabaab's Shura Council, a group constituting religious scholars, VOA noted.

He fell out with Amniyat

Originally from Ivory Coast, Al-Muhajir becomes one of the most sorted Al-Shabaab operatives given his role in the intelligence team knows as Amniyat.

But seven years into the delicate mission, the Dossier reported, he fell out with Amniyat in 2013 and was subsequently imprisoned for three years.

"I defected because al-Shabab, they are lying to the Muslims and to the world,” he said.

“They are claiming to implement the Sharia (Islamic law) which is not true because I know from incidents where they went against the Sharia.”

Al-Shabaab's propaganda and lies

Just like the AFRICOM had often accused Al-Shabaab of propagating falsehoods and propaganda, Al-Muhajir was quick to compliment the US troops.

According to him, Al-Shabaab uses Sharia just to “betray the people, fool them, and lie to them.”

"The reality of their actions is totally against their Sharia – they are killing innocent people and they are lying to the people.”

Stephen Townsend, the AFRICOM commander, has in recent weeks blamed the group for spreading "fake news" after attempted attacks.

Investigative Dossier verified Zubair al-Muhajir’s identity and defection through Somali officials and previous al-Shabab defectors.

Mediation role in Al-Shabaab

Given his strong ability and networks, Al-Shabaab appointed him to mediate a fallout among top commanders of the militants in 2011.

The dispute involved late leader Ahmed Abdi Godane and three other commanders – Ibrahim al-Afghani, Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansour and Fuad Mohamed Khalaf Shongole.

Godane was killed by a US drone in 2016 before he was quickly succeeded by Ahmed Omar, who has been at large for three years.

In a video published last year in October, Omar said "we shall drive Americans out of our land. They have killed many Muslims."

Frequent threats after the defection

But since his defection in 2019, the Briton has struggled to cope with public life, which is accompanied by frequent Al-Shabaab threats, the Dossier reported.

For instance, he claims, the group visited his small shop in Galhareri and forced him to pay Zakat, which resulted in a bitter dispute with them.

He said he told them he was ready to pay taxes but could not afford zakat, which is based on a certain amount of accumulated wealth.

"I have an argument with about paying zakat and taxes,” he said. “I showed them that if they want to take taxes from me, I’m ready to give them the taxes but if they want zakat from me, I’m not among the people who pay the zakat.”

A UN Panel of Experts reports implicated Al-Shabaab of using mafia-style taxation tactics to intimidate civilians and businessmen.

Through such tactics, the report said, Al-Shabaab has been able to sustain her activities across East Africa, despite being substantially weakened.

Government amnesty in Somalia

The Somali government has an open amnesty program for those defecting from al-Shabab as long as they renounce violence and the ideology.

One of the renowned beneficiaries of such a program is former Al-Shabaab spokesman Mukhtar Robow, who has since been arrested.

Authorities in Somalia arrested him in Baidoa after expressing interest in South-West presidency against the wish of President Mohamed Farmajo, Reuters said.

Al-Muhajir says he first went to the African Union Mission based at the Mogadishu airport, near Halane base camp.

Al-Shabaab remains a threat in Somalia

He is now at a Somali government safe house. He says he is still waiting to hear from the government on what program they have for him.

But Zubair al-Muhajir is clear on what he wants the Somali government to do, arguing that the group remains a great threat to integration.

"They have to take the issue of al-Shabab seriously, otherwise they will still kill the innocent people and do it in the name of Sharia,” he said.

"They have to take the fight with al-Shabab on the ideology side because this is the side which is boosting al-Shabab."

Last month, the group waged a deadly attack in Mogadishu's busy Afgoye junction, killing at least 90 people and injuring scores.

Since then, SNA has waged retaliatory attacks with aid of allies, killing dozens in the process, AFRICOM has claimed in a series of statements.


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