Life and death (?) of American rapping jihadist
Omar Shafik Hammami was killed in an ambush in Somalia's southern Bay region, according to reports. Uncredited / AP FILE PHOTO
Reports state that Omar Hammami, better known as "Al Amriki" (the American), a one-time militant with Somalia's Al Shabab, was killed in a shoot out Thursday. Hammami's death has erroneously been reported before, but multiple news outlets were confirming the news, which first broke on Twitter by Voice of America journalist Harun Maruf.
Maruf interviewed the Alabama-born Hammami last week, where he reportedly told Maruf that coming back to the U.S. was not an option "unless it's in a body bag." As for his life now? Maruf tweeted that Hammami told him: "Wake up in the morning, drink tea, eat beans, read Qur'an, drink more tea, more beans, pray, and sleep."
Hammami has been a marked man for a couple years now - tracked both by Shabab's hardline leadership, with whom he had a very public falling out, and also by Somali and Western forces since the U.S. put a $5 million bounty on his head in March.
A Shabab member, who gave his name as Sheik Abu Mohammed, told The Associated Press Thursday that Hammami was killed in an ambush in Somalia's southern Bay region. Hammami told Maruf last week that Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane (also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair) wanted him dead.
"I know enough about his organization to know that he doesn't abide by the principles of Islam," Hammami said, later calling Godane a "control freak."
Hammami said he is no longer a member of the Shabab and told Maruf he believed the U.S. and Shabab were working together. "I'm definitely a terrorist, but I don't think that the United States are in the business right now of trying to shoot rockets at me," he said. "I think it's easier for them to just give the Shabab $5 million and tell them to hunt me down."
If his death is confirmed, it is significant in terms of further streamlining the Shabab's leadership, which has joined forces with Al Qaeda and waged an internal war against dissenters. Although Hammami's importance within the organization has likely been overstated - largely due to his Western connection, including a time he spent in Toronto, and his accessibility to English-speaking journalists and analysts - Hammami did serve as a recruiting agent for Westerners, and in recent years, helped provide an inside look at a diminished, yet still powerful Al Qaeda group. (While he was on Twitter, we conversed in private "Direct Messages" regarding a Canadian who had joined the Shabab and reportedly led an April suicide bombing mission at Mogadishu's courthouse.)
His death would follow the July defection of Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a longtime Somali militant now reportedly in custody. (Here's an analysis of his departure and his shifting loyalties since we met in Mogadishu in 2006: bit.ly/18fd4rq )
ABC News reached Hammami's father, Shafik, who said he had been told of reports. "Of course I hope not, I hope it's not true," he told ABC News in a telephone interview from his Alabama home Thursday. "Our lives have been on a roller coaster for a long time, and we've been there before... we just hope that it's not true this time."
Shafik said if his son was indeed killed, he died "fighting for his principles, whatever they are."
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