Somalia's Omar Hammami: Life, death, Jodi Arias and Biebs
Tracking the life and death of American rapper-wannabe-turned-jihadist Omar Hammami, aka: Abu Amriki, is to national security types, what the Jodi Arias trial is to a reality-television-obsessed public (thanks to friend and Star colleague Jennifer Quinn you can figure out who Arias is here and here.
Last year Hammami released his memoir where he waxed nostalgic about his love of Tim Hortons and his year living in Toronto. In March, the U.S. issued a $5 million bounty for his capture which made you wonder how Western forces couldn't find a guy who tweets about as much as Justin Bieber (just FYI, on May 9th at 7:30 a.m., Biebs wrote: "Gonna go on a walk." It was retweeted 29,805 times and counting. Hammami, who goes by @abumamerican on Twitter has only 2,900 "followers").
Spencer Ackermann wrote a great profile where Hammami talks about his very public split with some of Somalia's Al Shabab leaders. Hammami has been chatting on Twitter with various national security analysts, both publicly and privately, describing the inner workings of the group and at one point offering details about the death of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Osama bin Laden's top leader in East Africa. (His account seemed to confirm what security sources told the Star in 2012.)
He had been privately writing the Star too, describing how he knew Canadian university student Mahad Dhore, who reportedly led a team of suicide bombers in Mogadishu last month.
On April 25, he live tweeted what he claimed was an assassination attempt and then posted the photo (above) of a bullet wound in his neck.
Now his Twitter feed has gone silent and there are unconfirmed reports that he was killed by other Shabab members. Fuad Shangole reportedly announced his death, although the claim has since been disputed (Star readers will recall Shangole as one of Ismail Khalif Abdulle's captors. Ismail was the teenager whose hand and foot were amputated because he wouldn't join the Shabab. He is now living in Norway thanks to the efforts of concerned readers).
Some analysts with time to kill apparently (sorry Clint) have gone to extraordinary lengths to try to get at the truth by analyzing the veracity of the tweets about his death.
It has seemed for awhile now that Hammami is living on borrowed time - hunted not just by Somali and Western forces but also by those he once considered allies. One thing is certain. If Hammami is indeed still alive, he's sure to tell us soon enough.
Michelle Shephard is the Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recipient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm