WASHINGTON - A former al-Shabab commander who is under house arrest in Somalia says he is being held to prevent him from seeking elected office.
Mukhtar Robow Ali, popularly known as Abu Mansour, was the deputy leader of al-Shabab and had been sought by the United States, which once had a $5 million bounty on his head. He defected from the terror group after violently clashing with them in August 2017. The Somali government initially hailed his defection but later arrested him to stop him from running for president of the Southwest region back in 2018, when it held its last leadership election.
Speaking from Mogadishu, where he has been under house arrest since 2018, Abu Mansour told VOA Somali that his detention was politically motivated.
"I was detained to stop me from running," he said. "I was detained in order to hijack the Southwest election," he added.
His comments, made last Thursday, come as Somalia is in the middle of elections to choose lawmakers for parliament's lower and upper chambers.
The 275 lawmakers from the Lower House and 54 senators from the Upper House will choose a national president at the end of the current election process. Southwest is one of five regions that plays a major role in the election of lawmakers who choose the head of state.
President Farmaajo is running for reelection and competing against more than a dozen people who have declared their candidacy, including two former presidents.
Abu Mansour says he does not want Farmaajo elected to a second term.
"To all Somalis everywhere, don't give Farmaajo a single vote," he said.
Abu Mansour says he is not giving up on running for political office despite being in detention for almost three years.
"I will always be ready to work for the development of our people and our country," he said. "I will not be demoralized; if I don't die, I will continue that journey."
Abu Mansour said he decided to contact VOA, alleging he has been "abducted" and that he has been denied his basic rights.
Abu Mansour said he feels unsafe under house arrest.
"I can't say my safety is secured."
VOA reached out to the presidential palace and the leaders of Southwest State, but they have not responded to requests for comment. The government defended its decision to block his political aspirations. The internal security ministry said Abu Mansour did not meet all the preconditions for running for office. The Somali government said Abu Mansour was still under sanctions by members of the international community for his prior membership with al-Shabab.
Abu Mansour says despite being in detention for almost three years, government officials never spoke to him in person about the reasons behind his arrest. Abu Mansour said he received a message through his traditional elder who told him the government would send him to an unnamed country if he were willing to take the opportunity. Abu Mansour said he rejected the proposition.
"I will not go into exile; this is where I was born, and I will die here."
Qatar is the only country that has agreed to accept high-profile al-Shabab defectors so far. In February 2016, Qatar agreed to give asylum to Mohamed Said Atom, a former commander of Al-Shabab in the Galgala Mountains of Puntland, following his defection.
In his interview with VOA, Abu Mansour condemned the militant group for targeting civilians and carrying out unlawful killings, including religious scholars.
"I left al-Shabab because of differences over credence," he said.
Asked if he regrets becoming a member of al-Shabab, Abu Mansour said he did not become involved in 'plots' while in the militant group.
"Whatever the mistakes I made I repent to Allah; no one is forcing me to say that; but I don't regret whatever the good things I have done."
In June 2017, the United States withdrew its $5 million reward offer for the capture of Abu Mansour.