By Spencer Ackerman Email Author March 19, 2012 | 5:40 pm
A Somali terrorist group’s most famous American recruit suddenly wants out. There goes Omar Hammami, al-Shabab’s rapping propagandist, who in one brief YouTube video might have undermined years of Shabab efforts to radicalize U.S. Muslims. Hammami fears his erstwhile terrorist allies will kill him for it.
“I record this message today because I feel my life may be in danger by Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen,” Hammami, who adopted the nom de guerre Abu Mansour al-Amriki, said in a video released Friday. Unspecified “differences that occurred between us regarding matters of Sharia and matters of strategy” led to a breach that Hammami fears might turn fatal.
It appeared to have taken al-Shabab by surprise. “We assure our Muslim brothers that #AlAmriki is not endangered by the Mujahideen our brother still enjoys all the privileges of brotherhood,” the Somali terrorist group tweeted on Saturday. (Hat tip: My Pet Jawa.) Rumors have circulated online that Shabab has seized Hammami, a U.S. citizen. On Monday, the group, which formally merged with al-Qaida last month, added, “All reports of #AlAmriki’s arrest are false and intended purely for propaganda purposes. Beware of such inaccurate reports.”
Whether or not Shabab is about to kill Hammami, his rebuke might be the first time an American enlistee with the group has publicly broken with it. Shabab has had the most success of any al-Qaida franchise in attracting American recruits: about 40 U.S. citizens are estimated to have aided the Somali extremist group. Hammami enjoyed the highest profile of any of them.
Hammami may not have been a household name, but he tried to be Internet-famous during his five years in Somalia. He dropped several YouTube videos discussing “jihadi-related” subjects in English, in the hope of inspiring other American citizens to embrace jihadi messages. One of his videos, released in October, used the term “Starfish Moe” to refer to U.S. Muslims put off by terrorism.
“When [Muslims] finally get fed up, and start fighting America, shouldn’t that be the sign for Starfish Moe to start packing his bags and to find out what’s going on?” Hammami said. “Shouldn’t he have a bit of sympathy for those guys? Or a bit of hatred for those that are harming his people? I think so, and I’m pretty sure that’s what his religion dictates as well.”
But Hammami was perhaps better known as Shabab’s lead vocalist. On an a capella track he titled “Send Me A Cruise [Missile],” Hammami rapped, “Send me a drone like Abu Laith al-Libi/and special forces like Saleh and Nabhani… send me four/ and send me so much more/ an amazing martyrdom, that’s what I implore.” A companion track, “Make Jihad With Me,” actually referenced Tupac’s classic chorus from “Hail Mary” by saying, “Make jihad with me/ Allahu Akbar, get some more boo-ty/ attack America now/ martyrdom till victory/ we takin’ Nairobi to Addis [Ababa].” It earned him a cover story in the New York Times Magazine.
As those verses show, Hammami has made several bad life choices, and now looks like a cautionary tale of American radicalization. Before breaking with al-Shabab, he might have gotten the cruise missile he wished for. Now, he might be praying instead for Special Operations Forces to rescue him. Maybe he can thank them on his next mixtape.