One of the most-wanted al-Shabab leaders surrendered to authorities in the Gedo region of Somalia Saturday morning. Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi, who has a $3 million bounty on his head, was hiding in a town near the border with Kenya, Somali officials told BBC News.
The commander of Somali government troops in Gedo told the Voice of America that Hersi was armed with a pistol and did not put up any resistance when he was captured during a house raid in the town of El Wak. Another Somali military official told Al Jazeera Hersi had made contact with authorities to surrender.
While in custody, Hersi told the Voice of America in an interview that he fled 18 months ago after a dispute with the late al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed in southern Somalia by a U.S. airstrike in September. Ahmad Umar was named the new leader of the al Qaeda-linked group just days later, BBC News reported.
Contrary to other media reports, Hersi said he was never the intelligence chief of the Islamist militant group, but held other top positions and was one of its commanders, according to the Voice of America.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration offered a total of $33 million in rewards for information leading to the capture of Hersi and seven other leading al-Shabab officials in 2012, the State Department said at the time.
Al-Shabab, which pledged allegiance to the al Qaeda terrorist organization in 2012, was defeated in 2007 by Somali and Ethiopian forces and has since splintered into several smaller factions. Differences among senior leaders and increasing levels of infighting has further weakened the terrorist group, which wants to overthrow the United Nations-backed Somali government, according to the National Counterterrorism Center.
Still, the group remains a terrorist threat in Somalia and Kenya. An al-Shabab attack on the African Union headquarters in the Somali capital Mogadishu killed three members of the AU force and a civilian contractor Thursday, BBC News said.