NAIROBI, Kenya — A young man from Alabama who traveled to Somalia and became an infamous Islamist militant, commanding guerrilla forces and earning a $5 million US bounty on his head, was believed to have been killed by his former extremist allies on Thursday, according to news reports and Islamist websites.
The jihadist, Omar Hammami, known for his rap-infused propaganda videos for Al Shabab, a brutal Islamist group in Somalia, was reported killed in an ambush Thursday morning. If true, his death would bring to a close one of the more unusual chapters in more than two decades of fighting in the Horn of Africa.
But Hammami, also known by the nom de guerre Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, “the American,” has been declared dead before, only to resurface alive.
There is little question that Hammami has been on the run from his former comrades. His recent troubles brought to the surface rifts within militant circles in Somalia.
Al Shabab itself has suffered setbacks in recent years as African Union forces and the Somali military have pushed the group out of Mogadishu, the southern port of Kismayu, and other strategic areas. A group of some 160 Somali scholars Thursday issued a fatwa against Al Shabab, condemning its use of violence.
But the group remains a potent force. The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea issued a report in July calling Al Shabab “the principal threat to peace and security in Somalia,” with roughly 5,000 fighters still at its disposal, as well as stockpiles of weapons and ammunition all over the country.
On Thursday, Al Shabab claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in Kismayu on the convoy of the self-appointed leader of the semiautonomous state of Jubaland, Ahmed Madobe. He survived the attack. Last month, Madobe reached an agreement to ally Jubaland with the national government in Mogadishu, while leaving him in charge for a two-year transitional period.
On a new Twitter account, used after the group’s old account was suspended last week, Al Shabab said it had led “a martyrdom operation against the apostate militia leader Ahmad Madobe & his officials.”
The Associated Press reported that a member of Al Shabab who gave his name as Sheik Abu Mohammed said his associates had carried out the ambush that killed Hammami.
J.M. Berger, the editor of the website Intelwire.com and author of the book “Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam,” said that it appeared this time that Hammami had indeed been killed. Berger, who has been monitoring hundreds of Al Shabab-related social-media accounts for more than a year, cited a death notice on a jihadi website that had supported the US militant and posted interviews with him in the past.
The son of a Southern Baptist mother and a Syrian Muslim father, Hammami was raised in Daphne, Ala., where he was a gifted student and high school class president. He later embraced the ultraconservative form of Islam known as Salafism before ultimately moving to Somalia in 2006 to fight for Al Shabab.
Growing up, Hammami loved Kurt Cobain and Nintendo and dabbled in drugs. He also attended Bible camp.