U.S. withdraws $3 mln bounty for Somali Islamist who defected


NAIROBI, March 9 (Reuters) – The United States has withdrawn a $3 million bounty linked to the capture of a high-level member of Somalia’s al Shabaab Islamist group who had since defected, a U.S. official said on Monday.

The Somali government welcomed the move and thanked Washington for supporting its efforts to persuade senior figures to quit the al Qaeda-linked organisation, which has launched attacks across east Africa.

The U.S. State Department offered a total of $33 million in 2012 for information leading to the capture of Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi and six other al Shabaab leaders.

Hersi — described on local media as the general secretary of al Shabaab’s finance department — surrendered to Somali government forces in December, Somali and U.S. officials said.

Breeann McCusker, a spokeswoman for the Somalia Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, said on Monday that Hersi had now been removed from the “Rewards for Justice” list, without going into the reasons for the decision.

Al Shabaab wants to topple the Western-backed Mogadishu government and impose its own strict version of Islamic law but it has been losing territory in Somalia to a military offensive by African Union troops and Somali forces.

The Somali government, which has offered al Shabaab leaders amnesties if they leave, said Hersi had now embraced the peace process.

“The Federal Government confirms it will support defecting leaders or militants in the transition back into Somali society and, where necessary, will advocate upon their behalf,” Somali presidential spokesman Daud Aweis said in a statement.

He added that the U.S withdrawal of the bounty followed “negotiations between the Somali and the US governments to establish clearly and beyond doubt that Zaki has renounced violence”.

A senior member of al Shabaab’s media team said in December that Hersi left the Islamist group two years earlier. (Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Andrew Heavens)