Two months after a frenzied appearance on YouTube warning that his life was in danger at the hands of fellow jihadists, American-born designated terrorist Omar Hammami has launched a media blitz to prove he is indeed alive and well in Somalia. This, after various reports made their way around the web alleging that the American al-Shabaab leader, more commonly known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, was executed on April 4.
In his first public move since reports of his death surfaced, Hammami reportedly reached out to Vanguard/Current TV correspondent, Christof Putzel, three weeks ago for an exclusive interview. The interview was conducted from afar, and Hammami claims he is alone in hiding in Somalia. According to Current's report, Putzel was told that he was singled out for the interview because Hammami had recently seen his 2010 Vanguard documentary, "American Jihadi." The Daphne, Alabama native is the main subject of the film.
Then, late Wednesday, Hammami brought his message to a wider audience with the online release of his 127-page autobiography, entitled The Story of An American Jihaadi Part One. The document was posted on the hosting site Scribd.
In the memoir, Hammami not only explains his motivations for jihad, but also details al-Shabaab's formation and his insights about American Muslim organizations. His inclination towards violent jihad began in the 11th grade, when the former Baptist became enamored of his father's religion, Islam.
But it was not long before Hammami strayed away from mainstream Islam, connected with a Salafi teacher in Alabama, and gradually became more extreme.
American terrorist Daniel Maldonado was another key figure in his journey to jihad, and reportedly the person who eventually introduced Hammami to the idea of making Hijrah [immigrate] to Somalia to join al-Qaida.
In his Story of An American Jihaadi, Hammami also sheds light on the 2006 emergence on an independent al-Shabaab organization, although he stops short of sharing sensitive, recent details. Typically thought of as the youth wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) government, Hammami says that factional disputes led to al-Shabaab's consolidation as a separate pro-al-Qaida movement.
It emerged during Somalia's chaos under the ICU government, with constantly reforming alliances and Somali tribal wariness of foreign fighters. At several points, Hammami asks himself what he is doing in the country, as war with Ethiopia exposes cracks in the Islamist alliance along religious and tribal fault lines.
Hammami also makes interesting observations about American Islamist organizations, as well as the evolution of Muslim American opinions on violent jihad. He remarks that his Salafi teacher in Alabama had once been attracted to jihad as well, "when it was still acceptable to the U.S." He asserts plainly that the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, has "ties to Hamas," even though he is critical of political Islamists, who don't move fast enough in trying to replace Western democracy with Islamic theocracies.