Omar Hammami, an American who quickly rose through the ranks in Shabaab and was rumored to have been killed after publishing a video that claimed his life was in danger, has released the first part of his autobiography. The document refutes the rumors that he was executed early last month by Shabaab for releasing the video. Shabaab has denied Hammami’s life is in danger.
Hammami, who is known as Abu Mansour al Amriki, serves as a top military commander, propagandist, and recruiter for Shabaab. The notice of his autobiography was recently released on YouTube by a user known as somalimuhajirwarrior, the same person who uploaded the short video in which Hammami claimed his life was in danger. The autobiography, titled “The Story of an American Jihaadi, Part One,” has been published on Scribd.
The introduction to the voluminous 127-page autobiography is signed by Hammami as “Still alive and well (by May 16 2012), Omar Hammami, Somaalia.”
In the autobiography, Hammami provides intimate details about his childhood, including his family history; his relationship with his parents, siblings, and grandparents; and information about his activities in school, including teachers, friendships, and enemies. Hammami describes himself as a soccer “star” and president of his seventh grade class.
Much of the autobiography focuses on his religious upbringing, and the void he felt as a child until he was introduced to Islam in the seventh grade. After this, he became alienated from friends and family as he became immersed in religion. He even felt distant from family and friends in Syria after a visit to the country in the eleventh grade.
“I remember I had to leave all of those Sufi friends [in Syria] and I began socializing with other practicing people and going to the Masjids,” Hammami writes. “The only problem that year was that I had become more religious than my family over there.”
Hammami frequently clashed with students and teachers in high school over religion. He was able to leave a year early, attended college, dropped out, and then worked various jobs.
He describes his feelings after learning of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US, which he ultimately celebrated.
“I was mixed between the ‘hatred of terrorism’ instilled by the ‘Salafis’ and between my real hatred for America, the disbelievers, and their oppression of the Muslims,” he writes. “Although I did go through a denial phase and blamed it on the Muslims for not engaging in enough Dacwah (as is reported by the USA school newspaper the Vanguard) I still remember finding myself alone in the Masjid that day and I jumped up and said: Allaahu Akbar!”
But Hammami ultimately attributes his radicalization to an unnamed “well-known scholar” who debated a “Salafi” cleric. Hammami says he learned that the “whole ‘Salafi’ movement,” which he clearly holds in contempt, “are only engaged in talking about one another.”
Hammami describes a visit to Syria with his father, and claims he planned to leave the country and travel to Yemen to study Islam with the unnamed “scholar” he admired. But his family blocked him, and he returned to the US, where he worked at at a flea market and a store that sold hip-hop clothing. Hammami then claims that the FBI attempted to entice him into discussing jihad.
“While working at the flea market and also on other occasions while selling Islaamic books or chilling at the Masjid, it seemed obvious that the FBI was trying to send me reformed crack heads as spies to entice me to talk to them about Jihaad,” he writes. I began realizing how true that hunch of mine was once I saw how many brothers went to the slammer for such stupidity after my departure.”
Hammami traveled to Canada, where he married a Somali woman, and then moved his family to Eygpt. While living there he heard and read sermons from Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, the influential, radical Jordanian cleric, that convinced him he was a jihadist.
“Any remaining doubts in my head that were instilled by my early days as a “Salafi” (i.e. neo-Salafi) had been removed,” he states. “Jihaad is truly an individual obligation upon all of us. We do not have to wait for a Khaliifah [Caliphate] to establish this obligation of Jihaad. There is nothing wrong with making Takfiir [declaring a Muslim an unbeliever] of the rulers and those who judge by other than the Sharicah and make friends with the Disbelievers. I had become a Jihaadi (call it Salafi Jihaadi if you want, or even call it Muslims who believe in adhering to all of the Sharicah, and not just some parts, if you choose).”
Hammami abandoned his family and traveled to Somalia shortly afterward. After arriving in Mogadishu, he was detained by the authorities. Hammami told the Islamic Courts that he was in Somalia to visit his wife’s family.
While Hammami does not say when exactly he traveled to Somalia, he is known to have arrived in November 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union controlled the country. Hammami confirms this when he mentions that he was interrogated by “the famed terrorist Fazul, may Allaah accept him as a martyr.” Fazul is none other than Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, al Qaeda’s leader in East Africa and a senior Shabaab commander, who was killed at a Somali military checkpoint in Mogadishu in June 2011.
Hammami stayed with family and his friend, Abu Mohammed, who met him later in Somalia. The two traveled to Kismayo with other fighters and a man whom he describes as an American “spy” who claimed to be an al Qaeda leader. He and Abu Mohammed trained at a camp in Kismayo and later joined with other foreigners, including Eritrean, Ethiopian, and British citizens, to fight on “the front line” during the Ethiopian invasion in late 2006.
Hammami maintains that the Islamic Courts made strategic errors by fighting the Ethiopian forces in conventional battles and overextending their supply lines by taking areas such as Baidoa, far from Mogadishu and Kismayo.
“Even if the war was to be fought conventionally, the Courts should have used their strategic depth to their advantage by drawing the Ethiopians all the way to Mogadishu,” Hammami writes. “If the conventional battle failed, the capital city would be within reach for the fighters to fade into the populace for urban guerrilla warfare. Instead of such a strategy, the Courts ended up simply running away after a short conventional fight (which sapped them of most of their manpower, weapons, and equipment) far from refuge; without laying any ambushes for the oncoming Ethiopians and without allowing for urban warfare in Mogadishu.”
“Unfortunately, it would take many failures for the Mujaahidiin to realize that ambushes and irregular urban warfare were the true keys to success against a much stronger occupier,” he observes.
Hammami goes on to describe the Islamic Courts’ retreat to Ras Kamboni (or Chiamboni). While there, he again met Fazal Mohammed and future Shabaab emir Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubayr. He describes the “Cabdul Qaadir Kommandos,” an elite group of jihadist fighters that attempts to get the Islamic Courts fighters to regroup and make a stand against the Ethiopians.
He relates the group’s movements in southern Somalia in the jungles along the Kenyan border, and tells of meeting Somali jihadi luminaries such as Hassan Turki, whom he describes as an al Qaeda leader, and Hassan Dahir Aweys. According to Hammami’s account, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the current president of Somalia, even gave a sermon extolling the virtues of jihad.
Hammami also tells about his time at another training camp and provides an anecdote about how Shabaab was formed from a cadre of Islamic Courts leaders, such as Zubayr, Shaykh Muhammad Abu Fa’id, and Ibrahim al Afghani. Hammami explains that Turki’s decision not join Shabaab was due to leadership differences.
Hammami’s role in Shabaab is said to be covered in part two of his autobiography, which has not yet been released.