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American militant on 'most-wanted' list reportedly killed in Somalia

September 12, 2013|By Robyn Dixon

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- He has been reported dead before. But Thursday, witnesses and analysts expressed confidence in word that Abu Mansour al Amriki, an American militant on the U.S. “most-wanted” list with a $5-million bounty on his head, had been slain in Somalia.

The Islamist who left home in Alabama to fight in Somalia wasn’t killed by a U.S. drone, the reports said, but was ambushed in a forest by former colleagues and now enemies in the militant group Al Shabab.

Born Omar Hammami of a Syrian Muslim father and a Baptist mother, he went to Somalia in 2006 and rose swiftly through Al Shabab’s ranks, making propaganda recordings for them. Hammami, known as Al Amriki, or the American, rapped on a YouTube video to recruit young Westerns to join the jihad.

After he was said to have been slain in 2011, he reportedly posted a rap song mocking reports of his death, although some analysts say he didn’t perform many of the raps attributed to him.

Hammami was wanted by the FBI for allegedly offering support to a terrorist group.

The 29-year-old militant was reportedly killed at a hideout in the Gedo region southwest of the capital, Mogadishu, with several other allies, including a Pakistan-born Briton, known as Osama al Britan.

Terrorism analyst J.M. Berger, author of the blog Intelwire and “Jihad Joe,” a book about Americans who went to war for terrorist groups, said on Twitter he believed the reports to be true because “multiple, highly credible jihadi sources” had reported Hammami’s death. Berger said when Hammami was rumored dead on previous occasions, there had been no chatter on jihadi networks.

Reuters reported two residents in the nearby village of al Baate said they had heard Hammami was dead. France 24 and AFP also reported several residents of a nearby town saying he was dead after a gun battle.

His seven-year Somalia adventure was no advertisement for the life of a jihadist. On Twitter he sometimes complained of small discomforts “living off the tribe,” such as not having had a decent shower for years and having to boil his water, carted by donkey.

But more often, his tweets and posts conveyed a young man who seemed out of his depth, afraid of death amid a bitter feud between Shabab warlords. He wrote of all-out war within Al Shabab, tribal politics, assassinations, character smears (such as planting condoms and alcohol at his house to discredit him among Islamists) and violent attacks.

Hammami’s jihad life started to go off the rails when he posted a video on YouTube in March 2012 saying he feared for his life after falling foul of Al Shabab warlord Ahmed Abdi Godane. In April of this year, he said on Twitter he had left Al Shabab because they killed Muslims in their attacks.

“Their goal is to kill us regardless of reason,” he tweeted.

Yet he claimed to have no regrets.

“It's all good. Got kids and did the family thing,” he tweeted April 23 to one questioner, who asked if he just wished he could surrender. “Who wants to be grey, achey, and wrinkly? Go out while you can still do it with a bang.”

But at times he seemed nostalgic for home: “I'm a conservative hippie at heart,” he tweeted that same day.

“The South is in me,” he said April 21, recalling Alabama. “I still go deer huntin'. We just don't drank out here.” He said the main problem for jihadis was related to insincere leaders and their men.

Just four days later, Al Shabab came after him.

Hammami posted tweets April 25 describing an assassination attempt as he sat in a tea room: “Just been shot in neck by Shabab assassin. Not critical yet.”

He escaped, treating the wound with “peroxide, gauze and pressure” but the next day tweeted that Godane, otherwise known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, was sending many fighters to get him.

Abu Zubeyr “has gone mad,” he tweeted. “He's starting a civil war.” He and others hid in a hole behind his house, waited, and later fought their way out, he wrote April 29.

“May not find another chance to tweet but just remember what we said and what we stood for,” he tweeted April 29. A few days later his account went quiet, until he resurfaced recently after Al Shabab fighters detained his wives.

After the Shabab split in June, Godane’s forces killed Al Shabab co-founder Ibrahim al Afghani, leader of a hard-line faction. Godane’s other target, longtime Somali warlord and former Al Shabab official Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, was forced to surrender to Somali government forces in July. Berger, of the blog Intelwire, said Godane was likely to go after other opponents and dissenters in Al Shabab to consolidate control.

In his last interview with Voice of America, Hammami said he had not be with Al Shabab or Al Qaeda for some time but said he was “definitely a terrorist.” He called Godane “a control freak” who jailed Hammami’s wives.

Hammami ruled out returning home: “That's definitely not an option, unless it's in a body bag.”

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robyn.dixon@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesdixon

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