NAIROBI, Kenya – A most-wanted American jihadi in Somalia said Friday that the leader of Islamic extremist rebels in Somali was starting a civil war, just hours after an assassination attempt left the Alabama native with a neck wound.
Omar Hammami posted on Twitter about what he labeled an assassination attempt late Thursday as he was sitting in a tea shop. He posted four pictures, one of which shows his face with blood on his neck and a dark blood-stained t-shirt.
Hammami, one of the two most notorious Americans in overseas jihadi groups, moved from Alabama to Somalia and joined al-Shabab in about 2006. He fought alongside the al-Qaida-linked group for years while gaining fame for posting YouTube videos of jihadi rap songs.
But Hammami had a falling out with al-Shabab and has engaged in a public fight with the group over the last year amid signs of increasing tension between Somalis and foreign fighters in the group. He first expressed fear for his life in an extraordinary web video in March 2012 that publicized his rift with al-Shabab. He said he received another death threat earlier this year that was not carried out.
“Just been shot in neck by shabab assassin. not critical yet,” Hammami tweeted late Thursday. On Friday he wrote that the leader of al-Shabab was sending in forces from multiple directions. “we are few but we might get back up. abu zubayr has gone mad. he’s starting a civil war,” Hammami posted.
Hammami has been a thorn in the side of al-Shabab after accusing the group’s leaders of living extravagant lifestyles with the taxes fighters collect from Somali residents. Another Hammami grievance is that the Somali militant leaders sideline foreign militants inside al-Shabab and are concerned only about fighting in Somalia, not globally. Hammami’s Friday comment about a civil war could refer to violence between those two groups.
Al-Shabab slapped Hammami publicly in a December Internet statement, saying his video releases are the result of personal grievances that stem from a “narcissistic pursuit of fame.” The statement said al-Shabab was morally obligated to stamp out his “obstinacy.”
Hammami has enemies on all sides. The U.S. named Hammami to its Most Wanted terrorist list in March and is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture. Al-Shabab fighters are not eligible for the reward.
Along with Adam Gadahn in Pakistan – a former Osama bin Laden spokesman – Hammami is one of the two most notorious Americans in jihad groups. He grew up in Daphne, Alabama, a bedroom community of 20,000 outside Mobile. He is the son of a Christian mother and a Syrian-born Muslim father.
Hammami regularly chats on Twitter with a group of American terrorism experts, conversations that are so colloquial and so infused with Americana that many in the counter-terror field have formed a type of digital bond with Hammami.
After Hammami publicized the assassination attempt, one of his Twitter followers, a counter-terrorism expert from Canada, wrote that Hammami had nine lives. Hammami responded with an apparent reference to the movie The Blues Brothers. “‘I’m on a mission from God.’ minus the blues music,” Hammami wrote.
After the shooting, American terrorism expert J.M. Berger, who has a long-running Twitter relationship with Hammami, posted that it looks like Hammami came within a quarter-inch of death. “Perhaps it’s time to come in now,” Berger tweeted.
Terrorism expert Clint Watts wrote on his blog, Selectedwisdom.com, that the attack proves that Hammami should fear for his life. Watts said Hammami’s anti-Shabab social rants were annoying the militant group and he predicted conflict between Somali militants and foreign fighters.
“If there is going to be a war inside Shabaab, I’m guessing it will happen soon,” Watts wrote.
© The Associated Press, 2013