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Al Shabab terrorist recounts time spent in ‘haven’ Canada in online memoir
Friday, May 18, 2012
by Stewart Bell
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TORONTO — Fourteen months ago, officials in Somalia announced that a former Toronto resident turned Islamist terrorist named Omar Shafik Hammami had been killed in Mogadishu, bringing an end to his jihadi adventure.
But his body could not be found and when Hammami resurfaced a month later in a video in which he taunted the U.S. to make him a martyr, ABC News wryly reported that he was not dead “yet.”
Perhaps fearing the Americans would soon grant his wish, Hammami, 28, released an autobiography on the web this week. Filling 127 pages, it tells of his life in Toronto, his “temporary haven” while he transitioned to a life of terror.
Unhappy with the U.S., watched by the FBI, and engaged to marry a Canadian, Hammami drove to Toronto in 2004. Crossing the border at Windsor, according to his memoir, The Story of an America Jihadi, was “like entering a new world.”
“There are Tim Horten’s [sic] fast-food joints all over the place and people speak from their nose,” he wrote. “When you enter the restaurant for the first time in your life you’ll see that almost every dish is accompanied by coffee and a doughnut!
“We used to have a blast asking the Canadians we met: “How ‘bout that hockey eh? Wanna have a coffee at Tim Horten’s [sic] or should I get ya a Fresca? Everything is the same but slightly different.”
Putting aside its cartoonish portrayal of Canada and adolescent self-indulgence, the autobiography highlights a serious issue: homegrown radicalization.
For reasons that academics and security analysts have been unable to fully explain, a handful of Western youths have found the al-Qaeda ideology so alluring they have either plotted attacks in their home countries, as members of the Toronto 18 did in 2006, or traveled abroad to join terror groups.
A half-dozen young Somali-Canadians followed in Hammami’s footsteps in 2009 and left Toronto to join Al Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked group that is fighting to impose its harsh version of Islamic law on Somalis. At least one of them reportedly died soon after arriving.
Last March, another Somali-Canadian, Mohamed Hersi, was arrested at Toronto’s Pearson airport as he was boarding a flight to Cairo. The RCMP alleged the then-25-year-old security guard was on his way to Somalia to join Al Shabab. He was charged with two terrorism offences.
While many of the Canadians who trekked to Somalia and Pakistan are probably dead, there is concern some may return and put their training to use. Last October, Al-Shabab released an audiotape by a Somali-American suicide bomber. In it, he urged “brothers and sisters” to “do jihad in Canada … fight them.”
The Canadian government released a national counter-terrorism strategy in February that identified Sunni Islamist extremism as the country’s top security threat and vowed to make communities more resilient to the influence of extremist ideologues.
Shortly after that, Ottawa tabled legislation that would make it illegal to leave Canada for the purposes of committing terrorism – an attempt to prevent Canadians from departing to join Al Shabab and like-minded groups.
Hammami was delivering pizzas in Toronto when he felt the urge.
“I used to translate books on the weekdays and deliver pizza on the weekends. It wasn’t stressful at all,” he wrote in his book, published online Wednesday and distributed by the SITE Intelligence group. “I finally looked at my life and decided that I had to move on.”
He began reading what he called Islamic books, he wrote. “I also started to feel my old emotions towards jihad once again.” He considered traveling to Syria “and waiting for the jihad to spill over from Iraq.” Then his wife got pregnant.
“I started seeing different Muslims in Toronto and checking out different masjid [mosques]. That is where I began reading black-listed books,” he wrote. “The fact that I was now living in a multicultural metropolis really helped my attempt of trying new things and melting down the artificial barriers.
“I was happy for quite a while until I realized that even this is not enough. Obviously [Toronto] was never a pure Islamic society by any stretch of the imagination, but it served as a temporary haven for me while I digested new information and formed new plans for my future.”
Although he liked the Toronto Somali community, he complained about its “Western defects” and said it pained him to see Somalis “imitating the kuffar [non-believers] in almost everything.” So he left for Egypt.
“There was a bit of a problem at the airport. We had one-way tickets and I think the disbelievers became scared that we were planning to hijack the flight.” From Cairo, he made his way to Mogadishu in 2006.
Since then, Al Shabab has distinguished itself with its cruelty, setting off bombs in Kampala, Uganda, that killed 70, sending a suicide bomber to a graduation ceremony for medical students in Mogadishu and enforcing its rule on Somalis through public executions.
All the while, Hammami has flooded the Internet with puerile monologues. Like Anwar Awlaki and Adam Gadahn before him, Hammami, who was raised a southern Baptist, gained notoriety by using the Internet to encourage English-speaking Western youths to join the jihad.
He released a string of recruitment videos in which he rapped about knocking “America down to her knees” and fighting until “martyrdom or victory.” After Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden last May, he released a video that called for revenge attacks, declaring “We are all Osama.”
Wanted in Alabama, where a grand jury has indicted him on three counts of terrorism, and a divisive figure in Somalia itself, Hammami labeled his autobiography “part one.” Part two may end predictably. In the introduction, Hammami signs off with the tag line, “Still alive and well (by May 16 2012).”
But for how much longer?
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