WASHINGTON — Omar Hammami, the Alabama-born jihadi in Somalia who achieved Internet fame through his raps, appears to be safe for now after a series of increasingly desperate tweets yesterday about his standoff with Somali militants.
Hammami, also known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki, began tweeting at @abumamerican around the time of his falling-out with al-Shabaab, the militant group he moved to Somalia to join. His tweets on Monday were a string of dispatches from an increasingly tense standoff with al-Shabaab fighters, with whom he has fallen out. "I think he's in a lot of trouble, although the fact he's managed to stay alive this long is already surprising," said J.M. Berger, a terrorism expert who is one of Hammami's most frequent interlocutors on Twitter, on Monday afternoon.
His last tweet on Monday suggested he might be close to death: "May not find another chance to tweet but just remember what we said and what we stood for. God kept me alive to deliver the mssg 2 the umah."
On Tuesday, Hammami showed signs of life, tweeting that "Abu mansuur, afghani, hasan thahir uweys, &others passed a fatwa on http://aljahd.com that fighting us is haram &that we arent bughat." Berger translated on his own Twitter the meaning of the fatwa: "Shabab sheikhs Robow and Aways co-signed a fatwa related to Godane's 'attempted assassination' of Omar Hammami and other foreign fighters. I'll wait for a real translation for nuance, but the broad takeaway from the fatwa is: 'Do not obey the prince in disobedience to God.'" Godane, or Moktar Ali Zubeyr, is the leader of al-Shabaab. The fatwa was posted on the Jahad jihadist online forum. The fatwa "theoretically bodes well for Omar and his allies," Berger tweeted.
Despite being a terrorist with a $5 million bounty on his head, Hammami has become rather popular among the national security and counterterrorism Twitter crowd in DC. His regular tweeting provides a window into his unusual life, and he regularly interacts with his followers, who have varying degrees of sympathy for him.
"For about six months, Hammami has engaged in a public colloquy with American counterterrorism professionals, on subjects both highbrow (the meaning of jihad), lowbrow (barbecue tastes) and personal (the wisdom of Hammami remaining in Somalia while Shebab hunts him)," Wired's Spencer Ackerman wrote on Monday. "Those counterterrorism analysts have grown to like him, in spite of themselves, and feared that Hammami would not listen to their entreaties to turn himself in to U.S. authorities so he can live. Their worst fears might be about to come true."
"I have conflicted feelings about Omar," Ackerman told BuzzFeed. "I hope he doesn't die, and has the sense to turn himself in, rather than go out in a blaze of what he would probably consider glory. At the same time, he hasn't left himself many outs and he's a committed jihadi who claims to have killed people, hence my conflicted feelings."
"I have always felt sorry for Omar and his family that he's gotten mixed up in this stuff," said Will McCants, a former State Department counterterrorism official. "But I have less sympathy for him now than before he went on Twitter. He publicly told me that he has no problem killing American civilians. He's now learning the hard way that a lot of those who fight in the name of God are murderous thugs who wear the mantel of religion to cover their mundane ambitions."
"It's not just [counter-terrorism] people at this point, he's actually attracting a lot of sympathetic comments from around the Twittersphere," Berger said. "It's kind of amazing to watch. Outside of the natsec crowd, it's running probably about two to one, or three to two, for hate tweets versus "good luck" and "stay safe" tweets."
Berger emailed later on Monday night to note that the ratio had changed; "The Omar cheering section seems to have run out of steam, but the Omar bashers are still going strong." He declined to discuss his own feelings about what may happen to Hammami.
Meanwhile, Hammami is not yet out of the woods.
He tweeted on Tuesday: "They have started harrassing our wives. Army from gedo refused 2 come. Theysaid they will kill me even if they lose 100 despite defections."