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.
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Congratulations, Bill for reading and assembling a summary of that pile of crap. I couldn’t do it. I skimmed it until he got to Somalia and even then I breezed through. Nice inside scoop on the history of the ICU and Shabaab. Also nice to see he’s dedicated efforts to writing instead of hanging out on the battlefield.
Why would he do this?
Thanks for going into this Mr Roggio, this is important, enjoyed reading it.
Hammami seems to have a (few) chip(s) on his shoulders.
For years those in the radical Salafiyah movement have tried to present themselves as the pure, true holders of the banners of Islamic monotheistm, trashing other Islamic groups.
But here, Hammami openly tells us he is not buying the clique-like mentality of a lot Salafis. This begs the question: As more and more ‘original’ AQ members are killed off, how many of the next generation of jihadis will either subscribe to or care about radical Salafist ideology? What are the other ideological influences on jihadis present and future? Is ideological influence affected as much by region and culture as it is by personalities and language (Aulaqi)?
I hope there’s enough in the ego-caressing musings of Hammami to find out.
I remember as a small child my Mother reading me the story of the “man without a country” Looks like Omar’s dumb mother never heard of that story or EVER raised her son to be a real American much less a Southern American
“No man ever kilt me and lived”
Gen. Nathan B. Forrest, Army of Tenn. CSA
It’s good to get yet another source of information about the relationship between the ICU and the formation of Shabaab. I remember back in 2006 and 2007 that quite a few people saw the ICU as a legitamate moerating influence in southern Somalia. I remember the calls to negotiate with the ICU and that Shabaab was a reaction to the Ethiopian invasion. It turned out Shabaab had its roots in the ICU, and Shabaab was more of a distillation of the more radical elements within the ICU.
A lot of people wanted very badly for the ICU to be a legitimate and reasonable party to work with in negotiations. Half a decade later the same people want very badly to draw distinctions between the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Distinctions exist but it’s hard to seperate political entities that are bound together by common ideology, common history, common backing & funding, and quite often shared personnel.
My only real hope for the long term is that the Afghans, Pakistani’s, and Pashtoons grow weary of war and tell al Qaeda to take their act elseware. I don’t see any sign of that in the near term though.
In Somalia it appears that the north is slowing stablizing while the south languishes. The biggest difference between now and 2006 is the Islamists in southern Somalia no longer seem to be able to project any sort of sustained effort outside their home territory. Southern Somalia may indeed be the most wreched place on Earth, a bit like the killing fields of Cambodia from an earlier generation.
Without getting deep, perhaps one of his radical Salafist Jihadi friends will make part two of his auto biography a very short one with a happy ending. Perhaps the Brits or our AFO guys can make this happen.
“Still alive and well”, who does he think he is Johnny Winter?
I think this piece helps to view what is an essential distinction among many Saudis, even if it is unknown to so many Westerners.
That is the difference between Takfiris and Salafists.
A professor at Tel Aviv University wrote a brilliant paper on that topic. For some reason that brilliant Israeli paper is now longer online.
Among the two, Hammami is clearly proclaiming himself as a Takfiri.
One crucial difference between the two is that each side comes out much differently on the debate of whether you should use 21st technology such as cell phones and videos to wage jihad or if you are confined to only tactics and methods available to their leader from the 7th century?
Inside Baseball for most, but if you visit Saudi Arabia apparently it is a very hot issue.
Weird. This is why we call the Saudis “moderate”?
@ Tony Buzan
Very relevant thoughts you share. Is that paper still available anywhere else? What’s the name of the professor?
Aulaqi felt that hadeeth mentioning arrows in the End Times battles would be things like RPGs, etc, while other scholars said that the meaning was indeed arrows. Another debate topic one can hear between Salafis and the more war-like among them.
We should be so lucky if the side that promotes 7th century technology (Takfiri?) wins this fight. But it appears to me that both sides are equally adept at using modern technology like video, and so this distinction may just be an internal struggle for dominance. Salafist apologists like Tariq Ramadhan are like the small numbers of Sufis who lull the enemy into complacency before the hardliner majority strikes.
I don’t even know why people are beginning to take Salafis seriously. They are violent blood thirsty war mongers that want to drag our world back into the ignorant old days.
The difference between Takfiris and Salafists doesn’t matter. In the end, they are both out for blood and they will both use western technology, as always, to try to achieve their goals. Islamist propaganda is all over the Internet because of these bigots.
A very basic breakdown of some of the Islamist groups and related terms.
Salaf – An ancestor who lived during the time of the Prophet and the first four Caliphs.
Salafist – one who emulates the true Islam of the Prophet and the first four Caliphs. They can follow any one of the four traditions of jurisprudence although the great majority Hanbali.
Wahabi – A follower of the teachings of eighteenth century theologian, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhub. They are politically tied to the house of al Saud, intimately from very early on. They would never call themselves Wahabi, considering tying themselves to the views of single man to be a gross distortion of their views. They consider themselves as Salafi, or following the path of true Islam. A Wahabi is a Salafi, but a Salafi isn’t necessarily a Wahabi. A mistake I must admit to.
Qutbism – The prominent strain of Salafism in Egypt, closely tied with the Muslim Brotherhood. Not a self designation or tightly knit designation at all, but more of a grouping around certain central tenants. Per Wikipdia: “The central tenet of ideology is that the Muslim community “has been extinct for a few centuries” having reverted to Godless ignorance, and must be reconquered by Islam.”
Deobandi – Practiced in on the Indian subcontinent, it has its origins at the Darul Uloom Deoband school in northern India. Founded in 1866 as a conservative Islamic movement within the Hanafi school or jurisprudence. The movement was in part a reaction against British rule. To quote globalsecurity.org: “The northern Indian Deobandi school argues that the reason Islamic societies have fallen behind the West in all spheres of endeavor is because they have been seduced by the amoral and material accoutrements of Westernization, and have deviated from the original pristine teachings of the Prophet.” Around 15% – 20% of Pakistan’s population identify as Deobandi sect. Also from globalsecurity.org: “…Some 64 percent of the total seminaries [in Pakistan] are run by Deobandis, 25 percent by Barelvis, six percent by Ahle Hadith and three percent by Shiite organizations. Remember over 50% of Pakistan’s population is Barelvi Sunni centered in Punjab provence, and slightly under 20% is Shiite. Most of the Deobandi sect and their (Saudi funded) Madrasas are in Pashtun areas.
Takfir – The practice in Muslim jurisprudence of declaring another Muslim an apostate and thus an kafir (unbeliever). (This is not a group but a judgment)
Takfiri – Someone whom takes it upon oneself outside the norms of traditional Muslim jurisprudence to take up jihad against those he sees as apostates within the Muslim community. Many of them also have the rather odd belief that they are exempt from the norms of Islamic law while on Jihad and give themselves a huge amount of latitude in the name of pragmatism.
Some Salafi believe in Takfiri practice, others find it abhorrent, still others think al Qaeda hasn’t been particularly successful with it and has needlessly caused far too many Muslim casualties. Many western news sources and academics will label as pacifist those who are against Takfiri practice. They aren’t really pacifist but many of them do believe that fighting the west and causing all sorts of calamity within the Muslim community is counterproductive.
Islamist – A western term for those who promote Islam directly into the affairs of state. This is in contrast to those that use Islam to inform decisions of state. Tayyip Erdogan the prime minister of Turkey is considered by many to be an Islamist. His religious background is Sufi and he has no connection with the Salafists. Although Sufism is widespread, Turkey is the only place it has become a political force. As practiced in many places, Sufism is little more than antiquated folk custom. The Salafists consider Sufism’s philosophical underpinnings to be “an invention on Islam” and thus heretical. Former general and President Zia of Pakistan was
Political Islam within the Shiite community is whole other can of worms and shouldn’t be confused with what is going on among Sunni fundamentalists. What happens to one community can be influential in the other. There also has been a certain amount of collaboration between militant groups, especially in passing on information and technology. The groups are just as liable to be at one another’s throats though. The political systems and philosophical leanings of Sunni and Shiite are best treated separately.