Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Department of State has removed the $5 million dollar bounty on the former deputy leader and founding member of the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group Harakat al-Shabaab (HSM), Sheikh Mukhtar Robow earlier this week. Robow who served al-Shabaab as the terror group’s chief spokesperson and al-Shabaab’s southern regional commander of insurgent forces was put on the U.S. State Department’s ‘Rewards for Justice’ Program which falls under Executive Order 13224 signed into law on September 23rd 2001 during the Bush administration in 2012.
Robow is no stranger to jihad, he left his village of Hudder in the Bakool region of southern Somalia and then made his way to the Hindu Kush of southeast Asia where he cut his teeth as a Mujahideen fighter in Afghanistan in the 1980’s where he received training in the bin Laden camps in the mountains and fought to oust the Soviet “invaders” that were occupying the region.
A strict adherent of Salafist Islam and sharia law, Robow made his way back to southern Somalia in the early 1990’s where he started Somalia’s first jihadist training camp in the Baay region which he aptly called al-Hudda in 1996. Then in 1997 a Salafist militant organization known as Al Ittihad Al Islamiya (AIAI) was re-flagging as a more political affiliate known as the Somali Islamic Courts Union (ICU) with the intent of spreading sharia law through the entire country of Somalia and needed commanders for its armed wing.
Robow answered the ICU’s call and served as a military commander for them until some time around 2003 when he, Aden Hashi Ayro, and Ahmed Abdi Godane split off from the ICU and started an armed jihadist group known as Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, or simply al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab stayed relatively dormant for about three years, more than likely training new members and securing financing from sympathetic investors from the Gulf States.
Then in 2006, al-Shabaab emerged as a fierce fighting force that mercilessly attacked the U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces sent to augment the newly established Somali Transitional Federal Governmental (TFG) forces. Al-Shabaab was so effective in its guerrilla war against the TFG and Ethiopian forces that in March 2007 the African Union sent in troops from Uganda and Burundi under the newly formed United Nations-backed African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM. Which al-Shabaab also attacked without mercy, a conflict that continues even to this day.
In early 2008 the then overall leader of al-Shabaab, Ayro, claimed fealty to Osama bin-Laden and his al-Qaeda terror network which bought him a High Value Target (HVT) status from the United States. Ayro was killed by a drone strike in May of that very same year which put Godane in the driver’s seat as the “head honcho” of al-Shabaab.
Almost immediately there was in-fighting within the terror group. Namely between Robow and Godane as Godane didn’t like Robow’s “clannist” leanings and his views of keeping al-Shabaab a nationalist movement. Godane wanted to go global like al-Qaeda did, he wanted the headlines.
Robow was tapped by Godane right after the drone death of its leader Ayro as the group’s spokesperson, and as rumors flew throughout the jihadist underground that these two were at odds. Robow publicly kept up the facade of a unified front, he publicly endorsed the group’s declaration of pledging their loyalty to al-Qaeda as well as giving speeches encouraging Godane’s desire for foreign fighters to join the al-Shabaab struggle.
Reports of secret meetings between the then leader of Hizbul Islam, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and Robow that were designed to establish a new group that would directly oppose al-Shabaab made their way to Godane and al-Qaeda central in late 2010. Robow, still wanting to maintain the unifed front, quelled these rumors by recording a speech to bin-Laden himself saying, “your students are united.” Then in early 2011, without warning, Robow kicked out all al-Shabaab forces loyal to Godane from his clan-held strongholds in the Bay and Bakool regions of southern Somalia solidifying that these two prominent jihadist leaders were never truly going to see eye-to-eye.
Then the Godane/Robow beef spilled over publicly in 2013 after a well-known foreign fighter, an American known as Omar Hammami, or Abu Mansoor al-Amriki took to social media to proclaim the poor treatment of foreign fighters by Godane and his loyalists. Robow who developed a close friendship with the Daphne, Alabama born Hammami along with two other senior al-Shabaab leaders, Ibrahim al-Afghani and Hizbul Islam’s leader Aweys, backed Hammami and his claims. This enraged Godane and called for the death of Hammami by al-Shabaab’s Amniyat that were loyal to him. Al-Afhani and Aweys issued a fatwa, or an Islamic law ruling that no harm will come to Hammami or any other Shabaab commander in his corner.
Godane ignored this ruling and his Amniyat operatives hunted down the American jihadist and killed him in fall 2013 which played out on Hammami’s twitter feed up to his death. Godane also had al-Afghani and Moalim Burhan, two senior Shabaab commanders assassinated two months later.
Robow fled back to the south in fear for his life from Godane assassins, exiling himself in his home village of Huder, surrounded by his Rahanweyn clan in the Bakool region where he began training his clan into a formidable militia as well as becoming the clan’s religious leader. It was then reported that Robow then entered into negotiations with the Somali government in what was no doubt an amnesty plea later that fall of 2013. Robow remains in the south to this day.
Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in 2014 by a U.S. drone strike on his compound in central Somalia.
Feature images courtesy of: YouTube.