MOGADISHU - A notorious Somali warlord allied to the Islamist al-Shabaab and on UN sanction lists has agreed to quit the extremists, the information ministry said at the weekend.
Powerful arms dealer Mohamed Said Atom, who is under UN Security Council sanctions for "kidnapping, piracy and terrorism", has been a close ally of the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab.
But a government statement on Saturday quoted Atom as saying he had left the Shebab, 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 government.
Atom, as well as Shebab 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 troops fighting alongside the government.
Residents look at the wreckage of a car after it exploded close to Mogadishu's City Palace Hotel, in Somalia. PHOTO/AFP
Atom on Saturday said the Shebab were fighting against Islam.
"Islam is a compassionate religion... they (Shebab) deliberately kill Somali people who are Muslims," he said, according to the government statement.
Atom said Shebab 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.
The Shebab 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.
Somalia's information ministry said in a statement it hoped Atom's "brave step inspires others to follow his example and embrace peace and unity."
Somalia's central government has "consistently offered" Shebab members "who have realised the error of their ways and who renounce violence, the opportunity to reintegrate with Somali society and guarantees their safety," it added.
Also related to this story
Fill in your Name and Email Address to receive a Free Newsletter
Somali warlord quits al-Shabaab extremists