Al-Shabaab intelligence chief surrenders to Amisom forces
A top leader of Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab rebels, intelligence chief Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi, has surrendered to government and African Union forces and is now in custody, officials said Saturday.
The militant is the subject of a $3 million bounty as part of the US State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” programme, and officials said he surrendered in the Gedo region, where Somalia borders Kenya and Ethiopia.
“Zakariya Ahmed was a very senior person who worked with Godane,” said regional military official Jama Muse, referring to former Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed by a US air strike in September.
“He was in charge of intelligence and finances. He was one of the senior Al-Shabaab commanders who the Americans put a lot of money on their head,” he added.
Another Somali military official, Mohamed Osmail, said the militant was hiding in a house in a border town, and made contact with government officials in order to hand himself in.
Another intelligence source said the surrender was believed to have been motivated by a series of recent bloody splits and purges within the group, with Godane having ruthlessly eliminated many of his rivals and his successor, Ahmad Umar Abu Ubaidah, continuing to maintain strict internal security.
Although presented by the officials as a senior Al-Shabaab operative, it was unclear if Zakariya Ahmed had still been active within the terrorist group in recent months or weeks, or if he was among a group of commanders who had already fallen out with Godane prior to his death.
There was no immediate comment from Al-Shabaab.
The surrender came as the United States “strongly condemned” an Al-Shabaab attack that killed three soldiers and a civilian at African Union headquarters in Somalia.
The assault, launched by the rebels in Mogadishu on Thursday, killed three soldiers from the union’s local peacekeeping mission known as Amisom, and a civilian contractor.
“These individuals sacrificed their lives in an effort to bring lasting peace and stability to Somalia,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
“The United States strongly condemns the December 25 attack,” she added.
Four Al-Shabaab rebels, who are fighting to topple Somalia’s internationally-backed government, were killed and another four captured in the attack, officials said.
“Our support for the people of Somalia, the African Union Mission in Somalia and Somali government forces in their efforts to defeat Al-Shabaab will not waver,” Harf said.
“We express our deepest condolences to the families of the military and civilian personnel who were killed in this cowardly terrorist act,” she added. Al-Shabaab said it carried out the attack against what it said were “Ugandan mercenaries.”
Officials did not give the nationalities of the Amisom troops who were killed, but a contingent of Ugandan soldiers is in charge of the base. The AMISOM force, deployed since 2007, currently counts some 22,000 African Union troops.