A notorious Somali warlord allied to al-Shabaab and on UN sanction lists has agreed to quit the extremists, the Somalian information ministry said on Saturday.
Powerful arms dealer Mohammed Said Atom, who is under UN Security Council sanctions for “kidnapping, piracy and terrorism,” has been a close ally of al-Shabaab.
Yet a government statement on Saturday quoted Atom as saying he had left al-Shabaab, accusing Islamist chief Ahmed Abdi Godane of working for a “foreign agenda.”
“I would like to declare that as of today I have decided to resolve my religious and political issues through peaceful means and understanding,” Atom said, according to the Somalian government.
Atom, as well as al-Shabaab insurgents, have long operated from the rugged Golis mountains in the northern autonomous Somali region of Puntland, that forms the very tip of the Horn of Africa.
His defection will be a blow to the Islamists, who have lost a string of towns to a 22,000-strong force of African Union (AU) troops fighting alongside the government.
Atom said al-Shabaab were fighting against Islam.
“Islam is a compassionate religion ... they [al-Shabaab] deliberately kill Somali people who are Muslims,” he said, according to the government statement.
Atom said al-Shabaab fighters did not care for the ordinary people, “whom they starve by blocking the relief assistance from generous Muslims and non-Muslims,” the statement added.
Al-Shabaab remain powerful and continue to launch regular guerrilla assaults inside Somalia, as well as attacks including shootings and bombings in regional nations backing the AU mission.
The Somalian Ministry of Information said in a statement it hoped Atom’s “brave step inspires others to follow his example and embrace peace and unity.”
Somalia’s government has “consistently offered” al-Shabaab members “who have realized the error of their ways and who renounce violence, the opportunity to reintegrate with Somali society and guarantees their safety,” it added.