Abshir Gaarane Ahmed was a lead singer in a government band in Benadir, the region that covers the capital Mogadishu in Somalia.
The public knew him as the man who belted out patriotic songs about his country. His trimmed beard and smooth voice suited a youthful artiste.
Then on January 21, the National Intelligence and Security Agency of Somalia (Nisa) paraded him as a terrorist.
Side by side, Nisa published videos of him singing about his beloved Somalia as well as a confession: he had worked as an Al-Shabaab “accountant”.
Nisa did not indicate for how long he had been Shabaab’s financial manager. But it only confirmed stories that emerged from last year that the Somalia-based militant group was planting its agents inside government department.
Those agents, one report by the Voice of America’s Somali Service indicated, had used their government postings as a cloak to hide their militant life, gathering information to help the group collect taxes and target its enemies with precision inside Somalia.
In Benadir, Governor Abdirahman Omar Osman ‘Yarisow’ was killed last year in August by a blind female suicide bomber, who had worked in his office as a coordinator for people with disabilities.
The group has also continued to attack targets in Kenya, often buses, police stations and telecom installations.
This week, a group of businesspeople who routinely travel between Mogadishu and Nairobi told reporters the infiltration could easily expand into neighbouring countries like Kenya, dealing a blow to intelligence gathering.
In a joint statement, the traders appealed to governments in the region to work harder and ensure the Shabaab do not create a parallel network between the governments.
“Authorities must pay attention to what is happening in Mogadishu. History will judge them harshly if they give up their role (of helping Somalia). Because they may invite attacks on their soil,” the traders said in Nairobi.
“Al-Shabaab is taxing every business by force,” they said referring to port importers, exporters, transporters and shopkeepers.
The traders asked to remain anonymous, fearing they could be targeted by militants or appearing to speak against the Shabaab “because they know where our businesses are”.
The traders said they were forced to speak about their experiences because they feel neighbouring countries were unbothered by reports of government infiltration in Somalia.
Yet the claims of the Shabaab taking over government roles were first reported by the VOA last year.
But a UN Panel of Experts on Somalia revealed the militant group is now relying less on charcoal exports and focusing on “mafia-style taxation” at the port in Mogadishu as well as markets.