MOGADISHU: A former senior Somali militant leader was arrested on Thursday, the government said, less than a week before he was scheduled to run for a regional presidency.
The government accused Muktar Robow, who defected from the extremist Al-Shabab movement last year, of “organizing a militia” in Baidoa, the capital of the southwestern Bay region, and seeking to “undermine stability.”
“These actions indicate that he never relinquished his extremist ideologies and is ready to harm the Somali people again,” the government said in a statement.
Authorities had been attempting to prevent Robow from standing in the December 19 election because he remains subject to US sanctions for his time as deputy leader of Shabab.
The Al-Qaeda affiliate Shabab has been fighting to overthrow the internationally backed government for more than a decade.
Police sources speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP that Robow had been arrested in Baidoa and taken to the capital Mogadishu.
Baidoa residents told AFP that hundreds of supporters took to the streets in protest of the detention of Robow, who enjoys the support of several clans and is regarded as a serious candidate for the region’s leader.
Sporadic gunfire was heard in the city, the residents said.
“This is a violation of democracy, Robow was standing in his region and his people wanted him. The government has no right to arrest him, this will lead to violence,” said Mohamed Sheik Ali, a Baidoa resident told AFP.
“The people are burning tires and the police are firing gunshots to disperse them. There is gunfire and there are casualties as well,” said Osman Adan, another witness.
“Armed militia and supporters of Robow have reportedly clashed with the police and the situation in town is tense as we speak,” he added.
Robow’s run for office has exposed the tensions between Somalia’s federal states, which want greater autonomy from a national administration keen to safeguard its central powers.
Robow defected from the Shabab in August last year. For a time the US government had offered a $5 million (4.4 million euro) bounty for his capture.
In 2013 Robow split from former Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane and sought refuge in the nearby region of Bakool, without completely breaking off links to the group.
Forced out of Mogadishu in 2011, the Shabab have since lost the bulk of their strongholds though they still control vast swathes of mainly rural zones from where they launch guerilla operations on government, security and civilian targets.