Lonely, homesick and hated: the American jihadist stuck in Somalia
The Daily Star
Friday, February 08, 2013
By Peter Martell
NAIROBI: Once his reputation was that of a feared fighter, an American-born extremist who left small-town Alabama to wage war alongside Al-Qaeda-linked Somali Islamists called on other foreigners to join.
Today, Omar Hamami – better known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki or “the American” – has split from the insurgents, who want to kill him.
He cuts a forlorn figure: homesick, stuck somewhere in Somalia, and telling anyone who will listen about his apparently doomed career path.
“Amriki would like to accept the honor of most wanted list and thanks everyone,” he said in a message posted on Twitter in November after the FBI added him to their Most Wanted Terrorists list.
He spends his days denouncing his former Al-Shabab colleagues as corrupt and refers to himself as the “former poster boy” of the group.
“War booty is eaten by the top dogs, but the guys who won it are jailed for touching it,” Amriki says in one tweet. It is a sharp turnaround for a man who once issued rap videos aimed at recruiting foreign fighters.
While the Twitter account claiming to be Amriki’s cannot be verified as genuine, photographs posted on it show the 28-year-old posing with automatic rifles, his lank hair held back by a checkered headscarf.
One image shows him riding a cart pulled by a floppy-eared donkey. “More luxurious lives of the rich and fame-seeking,” the title reads.
Another shows him holding a paper sign scrawled with the date, presumably meant to be proof that neither drone strikes – or more likely, Al-Shabab, with whom he has fallen out – have managed to execute him.
He also chats with Western researchers on extremism and terrorism via Twitter, apparently jokingly asking if they may “ever consider switching sides?”
“I’d miss the music, bikinis and bacon too much,” comes the reply from one.
“I see your bikinis and raise your four wives in this life, 72 in next!” Amriki swiftly replies, as if gambling in a poker game.
When asked on Twitter whether he might go to Mali to support Islamist fighters there, Amriki ponders whether they “could use some new raps,” like the songs he penned for Somalia.
Al-Shabab, who once controlled swathes of southern Somalia before losing a string of key towns to African Union troops and government forces in recent months, have good reason to want him dead.
Amriki, reportedly based in Somalia since late 2006, talks of factional infighting between those keen to follow an international Islamist agenda – such as foreign fighters following Al-Qaeda ideologies – and those following more Somali nationalist agendas.
He accuses Al-Shabab commanders of betraying the former presumed chief of Al-Qaeda in east Africa, Fazul Abdullah Mohammad, leading to his killing in 2011 in Somalia.
Fazul is thought to have planned the massive U.S. Embassy truck bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, and had a $5 million bounty on his head.
In turn, Al-Shabab have blamed Amriki for “spreading discord and disunity,” accused him of a “narcissistic pursuit of fame” and threatened to kill him.
Amriki certainly appears gloomy on Twitter, grumbling that there was “still no real beneficial analysis from anyone” after the online release of his rambling autobiography titled “The Story of An American Jihadi.”
Omar Hamami, who grew up in the town of Daphne in Alabama, was raised by a southern Baptist mother with Irish roots and a Muslim father with a Syrian background.
His autobiography, written thousands of miles from his hometown, details how he came top in Bible school, misses his family, and craves Chinese takeaways, among other foods.
“What I would like though is to have a three-day visit to see my mom, dad and sister ... I often wonder what this whole experience has done to them,” he writes in the book, adding that he misses his daughter, who he abandoned in Egypt as a baby.
“After going through all the hugs and kisses, me and Dena [his sister] would probably go running around town laughing our heads off and talking about a billion things without ever finishing a conversation,” he wrote.
“I’d like to make a round of the restaurants and get some Chinese food, some hot [chicken] wings, some Nestle ice cream, some gourmet coffee and a slew of other foods and beverages.”
Amriki describes his arrival in Mogadishu airport and struggle to integrate with the fighters, and his joy at being given an automatic rifle – which he admits he at first “had no idea how to use.”
Later, when he was still welcome in Al-Shabab, he talks about receiving hand grenades, his experience of which he admits was limited to that of “anyone who had previously watched a Rambo flick [film].”
His closing remarks in the book are that he can now “only pray that Allah grants me a righteous ending.”
“I knew that I was going to become a fugitive for the rest of my life when I made that decision [to fight in Somalia], I was well into the post 9/11 era,” he wrote.
“Someone seeking a thrill or a hippy’s midsummer’s night dream doesn’t normally consciously burn his bridges like that.”