Somali authorities on Tuesday confirmed that a U.S. national who fought for the Somali militant group al Shabaab had surrendered to authorities in that country.
A military officer, Ali Hirsi, said the surrender followed the militant’s defection from the group after realising that al Shabab’s ideology was wrong.
“U.S. citizen Malik John had surrendered to officials on the edge of Barawe, about 220km (135 miles) southwest from the capital Mogadishu’’
“The American was caught this morning on the outskirts of Barawe town,” Mr. Hirsi said.
He passed the phone to John, who told journalists from captivity that he was a 31-year-old man from Maryland in the U.S. and had been fighting for al Shabaab for about four years.
“I decided to leave them two months ago, I hated them because I found their ideology was totally wrong,” John said, adding that he finally escaped from the group six days ago.
John said he walked for days, eating bread and maize on the way. “I am physically ok now but not mentally.
“If possible I would like to return to my home in Maryland,’’ he added.
Somalia’s government has been trying to persuade many al Shabaab fighters to defect by promising amnesties for fighters who leave the group.
The U.S., other Western powers and countries in the region see the fight against the al Qaeda-aligned group as a vital part of the battle to prevent Islamist militancy spreading in East Africa and beyond.
In recent months, some of the fighters within al Shabaab have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, a move that had strained relations between different factions within the group.
Al Shabaab wants to topple Somalia’s Western-backed government and has staged frequent bomb and gun attacks in the capital Mogadishu.
The group has also hit targets in neighbouring Kenya since Nairobi joined AU peacekeeping forces in Somalia.