Mukhtar Robow is a co-founder and former deputy leader of al-Shabab in Somalia. Robow reportedly left the group in 2013 after disagreements with the group’s now-deceased leader Ahmed Abdi Godane. In August of 2017, Robow surrendered to Somali authorities.Omar Nor, “Former Al-Shabaab deputy leader surrenders,” CNN, August 13, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/13/africa/al-shabaab-robow-surrenders/index.html.
Robow has publicly acknowledged that he grew up in Mogadishu, but there is some uncertainty surrounding his exact birthdate and birthplace.Will Connors, Siobhan Gorman, and Sarah Childress, "Somali Militant Group Built Training Camps, Al Qaeda Links," Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703722804575369112124063190. The U.S. government lists his place of birth as Xudur, Somalia, with an alternate place of birth of Keren, Eritrea, based on an Eritrean passport registered to “Mukhtar Abdullahi Ali,” one of Robow’s aliases. The government lists Robow’s birthday as simply “1969,” while acknowledging that his Eritrean passport provides an alternate birthdate of October 10, 1969.“Treasury Targets Somali Terrorists,” U.S Department of the Treasury, November 20, 2008, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/hp1283.aspx.
Robow studied law at the University of Khartoum and taught Arabic in Mogadishu.Will Connors, Siobhan Gorman, and Sarah Childress, "Somali Militant Group Built Training Camps, Al Qaeda Links," Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703722804575369112124063190. In 1996, he founded the first Islamist training camp in Somalia in al-Hudda, Bakool region."Are These the Faces behind Westgate Mall Attack?" Daily Nation, September 29, 2013, http://mobile.nation.co.ke/News/Are-these-the-faces-behind-Westgate-mall-attack/-/1950946/2012542/-/format/xhtml/-/m3ga9k/-/index.html. In 2000, Robow traveled to Afghanistan and trained alongside al-Qaeda and the Taliban for approximately one year. It was there that he reportedly learned guerrilla warfare tactics and bomb-making skills, which he transported back to Somalia.Will Connors, Siobhan Gorman, and Sarah Childress, "Somali Militant Group Built Training Camps, Al Qaeda Links," Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703722804575369112124063190.
Date of Birth
October 10, 1969 (Probable)
Place of birth
Somalia or Eritrea
Place of residence
In 2003, Robow and some other younger members of the Somali Islamist group al-Itihad al-Islamiya (AIAI) broke with the organization to form Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujhadeen, now known as as al-Shabab. Robow was joined by future al-Shabab leaders Godane, Aden Hashi Ayrow, and Ibrahim Haji Jama. Their stated goal was to establish a “Greater Somalia” state based on sharia (Islamic law).Dagne, Ted. "Somalia: Current Conditions and Prospects for a Lasting Peace," Congressional Research Service, October 8, 2010, http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL33911_20101008.pdf.
The new group joined forces with an association of sharia courts called the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) to provide an alternative government for Somalia. Robow was appointed to serve as a high-level militant commander in the fight against local warlords in Mogadishu. When members of the ICU fled Somalia in 2006 in the wake of an Ethiopian invasion, Robow became the head spokesman for al-Shabab while also continuing to serve as a militant commander. Under his leadership, al-Shabab conducted a series of suicide and conventional attacks in 2006 and 2007 against Somalia Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Kenyan, and Ethiopian forces within Somalia.“Mukhtar Robow,” National Counterterrorism Center, accessed November 25, 2014, http://www.nctc.gov/site/profiles/robow.html.
Robow is a Salafist who has sought to impose sharia beyond the borders of Somalia and to cultivate a closer relationship between al-Qaeda and al-Shabab. Robow backed sending al-Shabab forces abroad and has encouraged non-Somalis to join al-Shabab in Somalia.Abdulkadir Khalif, "Defiant Al-Shaabab Reaches out to Somalis in Diaspora," Daily Nation, September 19, 2009, http://www.nation.co.ke/News/africa/-/1066/660576/-/136eb3uz/-/. Robow also sought to expand al-Shabab operations to other countries, but he differed with other al-Shahab leaders—notably former emir Ahmed Abdi Godane—over whether to expand al-Shabab beyond Somalia. Although Robow supportive of the al-Shabab relationship with al-Qaeda, for example, he believed that Somalia and the Horn of Africa should be the focus of al-Shabab operations.
Robow had a contentious relationship with Godane, who was killed in a 2014 U.S. airstrike. Godane ousted Robow as al-Shabab’s spokesperson in 2009 following Robow’s apparent attempt to negotiate with Somalia’s transitional government. Robow also withdrew militants loyal to him from Godane’s control following the failure of a 2010 al-Shabab offensive. Tensions between Godane and Robow apparently reached their height in 2013 and Robow was forced into hiding amid violent clashes between the two camps.Nathaniel Horadam, "Profile: Sheikh Mukhtar Robow (Abu Mansur)," Critical Threats, November 14, 2011, http://www.criticalthreats.org/somalia/al-shabaab-leadership/sheikh-mukhtar-robow-abu-mansur-november-14-2011. “He refused to listen to us and is interested in nothing else, but in power,” Robow commented about Godane in June 2013.Ahmednor Ugas, “Al Shabaab Leader Speaks out,” Somali Current, accessed November 27, 2014, http://www.somalicurrent.com/2013/09/20/al-shabaab-leader-speaks-out/.
Robow’s departure from al-Shabab weakened the organization as it split the group between two camps. Robow is a member of the Rahanweyn clan, which reportedly comprised the majority of al-Shabab’s initial membership. He is also one of the few founding al-Shabab members still active. Robow was largely popular among al-Shabab’s members while Godane, though said to be charismatic, grew unpopular as a result of his autocratic methods. Reports suggest that al-Shabab’s new emir, Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah, had asked Robow to rejoin the group.Tres Thomas, "Analysis: Is Al-Shabaab Stronger or Weaker after Godane’s Death?" Somalia Newsroom, September 22, 2014, http://somalianewsroom.com/2014/09/22/analysis-is-al-shabaab-stronger-or-weaker-after-godanes-death/. Rahanweyn fighters followed Robow when he left the group and later reportedly fought against al-Shabab on his behalf.Derek Gannon, “Al-Shabaab clash with militia of exiled founder Mukhtar Robow in southern Somalia,” SOFREP, August 10, 2017, https://sofrep.com/87492/al-shabaab-clash-militia-exiled-founder-mukhtar-robow-southern-somalia/; Feisal Omar, “Somalia Islamist insurgency splits as loyalty of key commander wavers,” Reuters, June 30, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-somalia-security/somalia-islamist-insurgency-splits-as-loyalty-of-key-commander-wavers-idUSKBN19L255.
In June 2017, the U.S. government cancelled its $5 million reward for Robow, reportedly as part of negotiations to encourage Robow to defect from al-Shabab.Feisal Omar, “Somalia Islamist insurgency splits as loyalty of key commander wavers,” Reuters, June 30, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-somalia-security/somalia-islamist-insurgency-splits-as-loyalty-of-key-commander-wavers-idUSKBN19L255. During the summer of 2017, Robow reportedly led his followers into combat against al-Shabab in Abal, Somalia. On August 13, 2017, Robow surrendered to Somali authorities in the Somali town of Hudur, south of Mogadishu.Omar Nor, “Former Al-Shabaab deputy leader surrenders,” CNN, August 13, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/13/africa/al-shabaab-robow-surrenders/index.html; “Somali insurgent leader Robow defects to government: military,” Reuters, August 13, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-somalia-defection-idUSKCN1AT09P.
Mukhtar Robow Mar. 2011
“If the so called Kenyan government thinks that we are easy we are telling them that we are not, the world is witness that we were behind the deadly explosions which have taken place in the Ugandan capital Kampala during the final match of the of the so called World Cup.” Nathaniel Horadam, "Profile: Sheikh Mukhtar Robow (Abu Mansur)," Critical Threats, November 14, 2011, http://www.criticalthreats.org/somalia/al-shabaab-leadership/sheikh-mukhtar-robow-abu-mansur-november-14-2011.
Mukhtar Robow Jul. 2010
“We tell the Muslim youths and Mujahideen, wherever they are in the Muslim world, to attack, explode, and burn the embassies of Burundi and Uganda.”Mu Li, “Somali Islamist Leader Calls for Uganda, Burundi Embassy Attacks,” People’s Daily, July 6, 2010, http://en.people.cn/90001/90777/90855/7053243.html.
Mukhtar Robow Jan. 2010
“We will cross the water between us and fight alongside with you against the enemy of Allah, be patient until we reach you brothers... These young fighters successfully completed several months of tough training and they are now ready to join their brothers in the holy war against the enemy of Allah worldwide.” "Somalia: Al Shabaab Says They Will Send Fighters to Yemen," Mareeg, January 1, 2010, http://www.mareeg.com/fidsan.php?sid=14786&tirsan=3.
Mukhtar Robow Jan. 2009
“We are informing all Somalis we want to rule with justice, and the almighty Allah's sharia law...We are informing Somalis we will not accept any man-made constitution. We will not accept it. We shall fight with anyone who opposes it." "Sharia Imposed at Somali MPs Base," BBC, January 27, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7854527.stm.
Mukhtar Robow Mar. 2008
“Al-Shabab feels honoured to be included on the list. We are good Muslims and the Americans are infidels...We are fighting a jihad to rid Somalia of the Ethiopians and its allies, the secular Somali stooges...We will continue to attack peacekeepers in Somalia, regardless of their nationality." Harper, Mary. "Profile: Somalia's Islamist 'lads'" BBC, March 21, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7307521.stm.
Mukhtar Robow Dec. 2007
"We are now planning to launch the most enormous attacks on the government and Ethiopian main positions. We will allow no foreign forces in our land... In the past days the infidel troops of Ethiopians along with their puppets and al-Shabab al-Mujahideen have fought heavily in Mogadishu. We have raided the enemies' military bases showering them with mortar shells...When we force Ethiopia to withdraw its troops from our country, its traitors will follow and the people will be able to embrace an Islamic government. Democracy is not right. They call it democracy when a man marries another man and a woman marries another woman. How can such things be allowed to happen?” "INTERVIEW-Somali Insurgency to Intensify-Islamist Leader," Reuters, December 16, 2007, http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/12/16/idUSL16540328.
The United States designated Mukhtar Robow as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on November 20, 2008.“Treasury Targets Somali Terrorists,” U.S Department of the Treasury, November 20, 2008, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/hp1283.aspx.
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