MOGADISHU - A top leader of Somalia's Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab rebels, intelligence chief Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi, has surrendered to government and African Union forces and is now in custody, officials said Saturday.
The militant is the subject of a US$3 million (S$3.97 million) bounty as part of the US State Department's "Rewards for Justice" programme, and officials said he surrendered in the Gedo region, where Somalia borders Kenya and Ethiopia.
"Zakariya Ahmed was a very senior person who worked with Godane," said regional military official Jama Muse, referring to former Shebab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed by a US air strike in September.
"He was in charge of intelligence and finances. He was one of the senior Al-Shebab commanders who the Americans put a lot of money on their head," he added.
Another Somali military official, Mohamed Osmail, said the militant was hiding in a house in a border town, and made contact with government officials in order to hand himself in.
Another intelligence source said the surrender was believed to have been motivated by a series of recent bloody splits and purges within the group, with Godane having ruthlessly eliminated many of his rivals and his successor, Ahmad Umar Abu Ubaidah, continuing to maintain strict internal security.
Although presented by the officials as a senior Shebab operative, it was unclear if Zakariya Ahmed had still been active within the Shebab in recent months or weeks, or if he was among a group of commanders who had already fallen out with Godane prior to his death.
There was no immediate comment from the Shebab.