American ‘rapping jihadi’ killed in Al-Shabab ambush in Somalia
Omar Hammami, a native of Alabama, died in village after being on the run for several months following fallout with militant leader
A "rapping jihadi" from Alabama who ascended the ranks of Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked militant group and was on the FBI's Most Wanted list with a US$5 million reward for his capture was killed yesterday in an ambush ordered by the militant group's leader, rebels said.
Omar Hammami, a native of Daphne, Alabama, who was known as Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, or "the American", died in Bardhere, a small settlement in southern Somalia following several months on the run after a falling-out with al-Shabab's top leader. Reports of Hammami's death crop up every few months in Somalia, only for him to resurface a short while later.
But a US terrorism expert who closely follows the inner workings of al-Shabab says he thinks that the current reports of his death are accurate.
"It's very likely true based on the sources I am seeing," said J.M. Berger, who runs the website Intelwire.com
A shopkeeper from the rebel-controlled village heard al-Shabab fighters confirm the deaths and said the militants had closed off the area where Hammami was gunned down.
"This morning al-Amriki and his comrades were attacked by well armed fighters," village resident Hussein Nur said. "After a brief fight al-Amriki and his two colleagues were killed. Several of their guards escaped."
Extremist websites, including one previously close to Hammami, confirmed his death and said a Briton, known as Osama al-Britani, was also killed. Other reports, however, suggested he was Egyptian or Pakistani.
Al-Shabab had declined to comment.
Along with Adam Gadahn in Pakistan - a former Osama bin Laden spokesman - Hammami is one of the two most notorious Americans in jihad groups. He grew up in Daphne, a community of 20,000 outside Mobile, the son of a Christian mother and a Syrian-born Muslim father.
His YouTube videos that featured him rapping and his presence on Twitter made him one of the most recognisable and studied US foreign fighters. The US put Hammami on its Most Wanted terrorist list in March.
Hammami moved from Alabama to Somalia and joined al-Shabab in about 2006. He fought alongside al-Shabab for years until they had a falling out amid signs of increasing tension between Somali and foreign fighters in the group. He first expressed fear for his life in a web video in March last year that publicised his rift with al-Shabab.
Hammami, who referred to himself as the "former poster boy", accused al-Shabab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, known as Ahmed Abdi Godane, of betraying the former presumed chief of al-Qaeda in east Africa, Fazul Abdullah Muhammad, leading to his killing in 2011 in Somalia. Fazul is thought to have planned the 1998 truck bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and had a US$5 million bounty on his head.
In turn, al-Shabab accused Amriki of "spreading discord and disunity" and a "narcissistic pursuit of fame".
He had previously warned of assassination attempts against him, and posted forlorn photos on his Twitter account posing with automatic rifles, his lank hair held back by a headscarf.
The first serious attempt on his life was made in April.
"Just been shot in neck by shabab assassin. not critical yet," Hammami tweeted after the April attack. He later wrote on Twitter that the leader of al-Shabab was sending in forces from multiple directions. "We are few but we might get back up. abu zubayr has gone mad. he's starting a civil war," Hammami posted.
Additional reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Presse