American jihadist believed to be killed in Somalia


By Sudarsan Raghavan

NAIROBI — When Omar Shafik Hammami was 20 years old, he left his native Alabama in search of religious purpose. By 22, he was in Somalia, fighting with al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked militia known for its brutality. He took the name Abu Mansoor al-Amriki and rose to a commander, earning a spot on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists and a $5 million bounty on his head.

He became the quintessential 21st-century jihadist, rapping in YouTube videos, writing an online autobiography and tweeting his thoughts and experiences.

On Thursday, at age 29, his journey apparently ended. Amriki — “the American” — was fatally shot in a southern Somali village in an attack ordered by al-Shabab’s top leaders, according to terrorism analysts and news reports. He had fallen out with the militia in a long and bitter struggle over influence and ideology.

Reports of his death have proven false before, and neither the Somali government nor al-Shabab acknowledged the attack. But analysts said the reports appear credible this time, and the Reuters news agency and the Associated Press quoted witnesses and al-Shabab members as saying he was dead.

Amriki and another foreign fighter, Osama al-Britani, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, were apparently killed in an early-morning ambush in a village in southern Somalia. For months, Amriki warned that al-Shabab’s leaders were trying to kill him. In April, he tweeted: “Their goal is to kill us regardless of reason.”

Amriki was raised in Daphne, Ala., the son of a Syrian-born Muslim father and an Irish-
descended Baptist mother. He embraced an ultraconservative brand of Islam in college and later married a Canadian of Somali ancestry.

In 2006, he abandoned his wife and infant daughter and traveled to Somalia to join al-Shabab. The following year, he was indicted in the United States on charges of terrorist activities, and a federal warrant was issued for his arrest. In November, he was added to the FBI terrorist list. In March, the State Department offered a $5 million bounty for information leading to his capture.

In Somalia, Amriki learned to use weapons and speak Somali, swiftly rising through the ranks of al-Shabab, which seeks to overthrow Somalia’s Western-backed government and create an Islamic caliphate ruled by sharia law. Amriki played an inspirational role, appearing in numerous recruitment videos posted online.

But by last year, he had a falling out with top al-Shabab leaders over the direction of the militia, which by then had suffered considerable losses at the hands of U.S.- and U.N.-backed African Union forces. Tensions grew between Somali and foreign fighters.

In a March 2012 video, Amriki accused the militia’s leadership of trying to assassinate him over differences about the implementation of Islamic law in areas under its control. He also publicly disagreed with the militia’s focus on fighting only in Somalia, rather than globally.

In an April tweet, Amriki said he had left al-Shabab because it was targeting Muslims.

His tweets often offered a glimpse into his private life. He complained that the last decent shower he had was years ago in Egypt and said he missed his home in Alabama. “I’m a conservative hippie at heart,” he said in an April tweet. In another, he said, “The South is in me.”

On April 25, Amriki described an apparent attempt on his life. “Just been shot in neck by shabab assassin. Not critical yet.” He later tweeted that he had been shot with a pistol and had treated his wound with “peroxide, gauze, and pressure.”

The next day, he wrote that al-Shabab’s leader, Mokhtar Abu Zubayr, was sending fighters “from multiple directions” to kill him. Abu Zubayr “has gone mad. he’s starting a civil war,” Amriki tweeted. He and his comrades ran behind their house and jumped into a hole. They later fought their way out.

In a telephone interview with Voice of America’s Somali service nine days ago, Amriki said he had cut ties with al-Shabab and accused Abu Zubayr of turning the militia into an organization that oppresses Muslims and of seeking to rule Somalia at any cost. Amriki added that he still considered himself a terrorist and rejected the idea of speaking with U.S. officials.

And although he had expressed a sense being of homesick, he ruled out returning to Alabama. “That’s definitely not an option, unless it’s in a body bag,” he said in the interview.