Girma Yeshitila, the head of the Prosperity Party in Amhara, was among five people killed in an attack on Thursday, according to the northern region’s government.
Ethiopia’s Joint Security and Intelligence Task Force said 47 “terror” suspects had been detained in Amhara, and found in possession of weapons, bombs and satellite communications equipment, according to a statement published by state-run broadcaster EBC.
“The suspects have been working together locally and in foreign countries with the aim of taking control of the regional government in order to overthrow the federal government by targeting top officials in Amhara with assassination,” it said.
The killing of Girma was carried out by these “extremist forces”, the statement added, without giving a date for the arrests.
Girma frequently targeted
A member of the Prosperity Party’s 45-strong executive committee, Girma was frequently targeted on social media by Amhara nationalists who branded him a “traitor” over his close relationship with Abiy.
“Those who couldn’t win ideas with ideas have taken away the soul of our brother Girma Yeshitila,” Abiy said in a Facebook post announcing what he denounced as a “shameful and horrible act”.
The Amhara government said the attack by “irregular forces” occurred as Girma was travelling with his personal bodyguards and family members to Debre Birhan, a city that lies 100 kilometres (60 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa.
Amhara was the scene of violent protests earlier this month over controversial federal government moves to dismantle regional forces in Ethiopia and integrate them into the national army or regional police.
The Amhara forces played a crucial role alongside the federal army during the brutal two-year war in the neighbouring Tigray region, which ended with a peace agreement in November.
Ethiopia’s army chief announced earlier this month that the disbanding of the regional paramilitaries had been completed.
Abiy had previously defended the move, saying it was for the sake of multi-ethnic Ethiopia’s “unity”.
But Amhara nationalists accused the government of seeking to disband only Amhara forces in a bid to weaken the region, the second most populous in Ethiopia.
Despite the Tigray peace deal, Amhara “special forces” and local militias known as Fano continue to control Western Tigray, an area claimed by both the Amhara and Tigrayans.
Ethiopia’s constitution allows its 11 states, drawn up along linguistic and cultural lines, to operate their own regional police forces.
But over the last 15 years, some states gradually established separate forces, acting outside these constitutional constraints.
In June 2019, the head of the Amhara government Ambachew Mekonnen, Ethiopia’s army chief Seare Mekonnen and other officials were killed in coordinated attacks that were branded an attempted regional coup.
Understand Africa's tomorrow... today
We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.