Somalia offers amnesty to al-Shabab fighters

Government gives fighters 45 days to take up offer, security minister says, after US strike targeted group’s leader.

Somali forces, backed by African Union troops, have launched an offensive on al-Shabab's strongholds [AFP]

Somalia’s government has offered an amnesty to fighters with al-Shabab, the armed group whose leader was reportedly targeted on Monday night in a US air strike.

Following a cabinet-level security meeting, Somali authorities gave al-Shabab fighters 45 days to take up the offer, Security Minister Khalif Ahmed Ereg told reporters on Wednesday in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

He said the government “will create a better livelihood to build their future for those who meet the deadline”.

The offer of amnesty comes after a US air strike that targeted al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, whose fate remains unclear as Washington and Somali officials assess the outcome of the attack.

Somali forces, backed by African Union troops, last week launched an offensive on al-Shabab’s last strongholds in southern Somalia, where the fighters are accused of plotting attacks across Somalia that have left scores dead this year.

Al-Shabab is believed to have thousands of fighters in its ranks, fighting to impose Sharia law on Somalia, but the group faces increasing military pressure from African Union forces that helped to oust the group from Mogadishu in 2011.

Al-Shabab has since resorted to tactics that include suicide bombings and assassinations of government officials.

Godane, the group’s spiritual leader, claimed responsibility for a deadly attack a year ago on an upscale mall in neighbouring Kenya, whose government has sent its army troops to fight al-Shabab in Somalia.

Somali authorities are trying to verify whether Godane, 37, was killed or wounded in the US strike, government spokesman Ridwaan Abdiwali said on Wednesday.

Al-Shabab remains strong in some parts of southern Somalia, including the coastal city of Barawe, and Abdiwali noted that it may take some time before there is confirmation about Godane’s fate.

Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, was publicly named as leader of al-Shabab in December 2007 and has since exercised command responsibility for the group’s operations across Somalia, according to the National Counterterrorism Center.

Under his direction the Somali fighters forged an alliance with al-Qaeda, and in 2012 the US offered a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to his arrest.

Source: AP