Profile: Sheikh Mukhtar Robow (Abu Mansur)
This piece is part of a series of al Shabaab leadership profiles.
Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, also known as Abu Mansur, is the deputy leader of al Shabaab and is a former spokesman for the group. Robow was one of the original founders of al Shabaab. He was added to the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) list under Executive Order 13224 on November 20, 2008. The State Department authorized a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his location on June 7, 2012. The United Nations has not designated him as a terrorist.
He is from Baidoa in the Bay region of Somalia, where his Rahanweyn clan holds overwhelming influence. Contrary to most reports, OFAC lists Robow as a native of Huddur (Xudur) in Bakool region. It also notes that he has used the alias Mukhtar Abdullahi Ali on an Eritrean passport with a birthplace of Keren, Eritrea. He established the first militant Islamist training camp in Somalia, al Hudda, in Huddur in 1996. Robow reportedly left Somalia in 2000 to train with the Taliban in Afghanistan, returning to Somalia after the Taliban fell from power. In 2003, he helped create al Shabaab from the remnants of al Ittihad al Islamiya, although the group remained effectively dormant until Ethiopia occupied Somalia at the end of 2006. He served as a prominent military commander for the Islamic Courts Union in its fight against the ruling coalition of warlords.
Unlike other elements in al Shabaab’s leadership, Robow respects the clan system and has at times protected TFG members who belong to his clan. These dispositions have created a rift between him and al Shabaab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubair, also known as Godane, who disapproves of the clan system and espouses a global jihadist view, aligning himself with the foreign fighters in al Shabaab’s ranks. Al Shabaab leaders removed Robow from his spokesman position in February 2009 after a media outlet published allegations that Robow was negotiating with Transitional Federal Government (TFG) President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. Garowe Online reported on December 20 that Robow was seeking to change al Shabaab’s doctrine to allow for negotiation with the TFG in an attempt to end the conflict. Another rupture between Robow and Godane erupted in October 2010 following al Shabaab’s Ramadan offensive in Mogadishu. Robow reportedly withdrew his entire force from the city back to his stronghold in the Bay and Bakool regions. On October 6, Robow reportedly met with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys to discuss combining forces loyal to them and creating a new militant group to oppose al Shabaab. Robow quelled those rumors two days later, downplaying the divide between him and Godane. He said, in a speech directed at his “leader” Osama bin Laden, that “your students are united.” On July 12, 2011, Robow’s militias expelled those fighters loyal to Godane from Robow’s stronghold of Baidoa, in an apparent resurgence of tensions between the two leaders.
Robow also promotes a degree of transnational jihadist activity, despite accusations from Godane and his allies that Robow is excessively “clannist.” Likewise, he has publicly endorsed the role of foreign fighters in al Shabaab’s insurgent campaign. “Fellow Muslims have the right to come to Somalia to support our cause to establish an Islamic state and defeat the pro-western politicians,” he said in September 2009. However, his vision is more limited in scope, focusing on Somalia and its neighbors. On January 1, 2010, he told hundreds of newly trained al Shabaab militants in Mogadishu that he would send them to Yemen to fight with al Qaeda. “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," he said. Additionally, he supports attacks against states that meddle in Somali affairs, including Uganda and Kenya. On March 7, 2011, he threatened Kenya with a repeat of the devastating bombings that rocked Uganda on July 11, 2010. “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,” he said.
Robow is committed to a state governed by shari’a law, having personally instituted it in Baidoa following Ethiopia’s withdrawal in January 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," he said.
June 25, 2012: Robow announced that he was not afraid of the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice Program, stating, “If [the U.S. government] can harm me, I [say] now that I am here in Burhakaba town and also I can move freely in Somalia.” (Raxanreeb)
December 6, 2011: Robow attended a meeting, along with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, spokesman Ali Mohamed Rage (Ali Dhere), senior member Fuad Mohamed Qalaf (Shongole), and clerics in Baidoa in Bay region. After the meeting, a statement announced that the al Shabaab would be changing its name to Imaarah Islamiyah (Islamic Authority). Al Shabaab retracted the name change a short time later. (SONNA, Somalia Report, Hiiraan)
October 22, 2011: Robow conceded that al Shabaab had suffered serious losses to TFG and AMISOM forces in Mogadishu and southern Somalia, which has significantly reduced its military capabilities. He also acknowledged al Shabaab’s unpopularity in Somalia was the result of violence against civilians. “We have wronged the people of Somalia and we are calling for forgiveness from the beloved people of Somalia,” he said. (SONNA)
September 2, 2011: Robow attended a ceremony in Afgoi inaugurating a new charitable organization. The al Shaheed (Martyrs) Foundation, established in May on Godane’s orders, will raise and educate the children of fallen al Shabaab militants. (SITE)
August 31, 2011: Robow delivered a speech following prayers at an Eid al Fitr service in Lafole, in the Lower Shabelle region. (SITE)
May 11, 2011: Robow eulogized Osama bin Laden in Afgoi, praising him for logistical and financial support of Somali Islamist militants. He claimed that bin Laden sent fighters to Somalia in the early 1990s to train guerillas, which helped overthrow Siad Barre’s regime. (Shabelle Media Network)
March 13, 2011: Robow defended al Shabaab’s beheading of three captured TFG soldiers. “We did what we promised to them. People traveling in that road can be asked how we killed them," he said. (Reuters)
March 7, 2011: Robow threatened to attack Kenya for sealing its border with Somalia and accused the country of indiscriminately arresting Somalis attempting to flee violence. He also claimed Ethiopian forces illegally entered Somalia and called on TFG troops to reject collaborating with them. (Shabelle Media Network)
March 4, 2011: Robow attended a ceremony with Fuad Mohamed Qalaf, also known as Shongole, and al Shabaab’s commander of the Bay and Bakool regions, Mahad Omar Abdikarim, to commemorate the deployment of hundreds of newly trained fighters. (Shabelle Media Network)
March 1, 2011: Robow addressed residents in Barwako, a town in the Gedo region, telling them al Shabaab does not recognize and will not respect human rights. He argued that local rights groups are aiding the TFG and that human rights impede al Shabaab’s war effort. (Suna Times) He also called on former Somali military officers to join al Shabaab’s insurgency against the TFG. (Shabelle Media Network)
January 9, 2011: Robow told citizens in Baidoa it is their duty to unite in a jihad against AMISOM. “It is an obligation on us to be united for the Jihad ‘Islamic war’ we request from all population of this town, Baidoa to help us for the fighting. Support us for the war against AMISOM and TFG in Mogadishu,” he said. (All Voices)
Jared Sorhaindo contributed to the research behind this profile.