Profile: Omar Hammami


Introduction

Updated: March 27, 2012

 

Omar Hammami, a 27-year-old American citizen from Alabama, has become a primary recruiter for Al Shabaab, the Somali-based terrorist organization affiliated with Al Qaeda. The group disseminates online propaganda videos featuring Hammami to recruit young Somali-American men to join its insurgency against Somalia's transitional governments and its Ethiopian supporters.

 

Hammami is identified in Al Shabaab statements and recordings as Abu Mansour al Amriki, Arabic for "Abu Mansour the American." On August 5, 2010, federal authorities unsealed an indictment charging him with providing material support to terrorists. After arriving in Somalia in late 2006, Hammami rose through the ranks of Al Shabaab due to his fluency in Arabic and his proficiency working with computers. 

 

More recently, Hammami may have come into conflict with other members of Al Shabaab. On March 16, 2012, a short video was posted to YouTube in which Hammami says, "my life may be endangered by [Al Shabaab] due to some differences that occurred between us regarding matters of the Shariah and matters of strategy." Al Shabaab responded via its Twitter account expressing surprise at Hammami's concerns and denying that he has anything to fear.

 

An audio lecture by Hammami posted online on May 25, 2012, may provide insights into his apparent rift with Al Shabaab. In the 45-minute lecture, originally posted online in January but quickly removed, he criticizes jihadist organizations with a local focus, likening them to a "cancerous tumor." He also calls for all Muslims to unite in a "jihad of the entire Ummah [Muslim nation]" under the banner of restored Caliphate. 

 

Hammami had become a public face and voice of Al Shabaab as part of the terrorist organization's effort to recruit English-speakers. In his numerous written, video and audio statements, Hammami has issued appeals to Americans and other English-speakers "to come and live the life of a mujahid [holy warrior]." Since the fall of 2007, approximately 25 Somali-American men between the ages of 17 and 27 have traveled to Somalia to join Al Shabaab, as have other recruits from Britain, Australia and Canada.

 

In May 2011, Hammami spoke alongside other Al Shabaab leaders at a public rally south of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, vowing to avenge the death of Osama bin Laden. "We are sending a message to [Barack] Obama and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton that we will avenge the death of our leader Sheikh Osama bin Laden very soon," he said. "Osama is dead but the holy war is not dead. Mujahedeen fighters all over the world are fully prepared to revenge the death of our leader."

 

His threats against the U.S. and other Western interests indicate that Al Shabaab may have ambitions outside Somalia's borders. Hammami's statements also underscore Al Shabaab's goals to establish an Islamic state in Somalia by ridding the country of outside influences. 



Hammami's Al Shabaab Activity

Since the fall of 2007, Omar Hammami has issued written statements on behalf of Al Shabaab and has appeared in the terror organization's propaganda videos and audio recordings.  His ascent to becoming the public face and voice of Al Shabaab demonstrates the group's effort to target American and other English-speaking audiences. 

 

While his statements focus on a range of issues, including Al Shabaab's goal to establish an Islamic caliphate "in all parts of the world" and to fight against Somalia's transitional governments and its Ethiopian supporters, they often include appeals to Americans  "to come and live the life of a mujahid [holy warrior]," as well as praise of Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and clips of Hammami leading Al Shabaab militants.

 

Several Americans charged with terror-related offenses have been influenced by Hammami's statements and recordings.  In June 2010, federal authorities arrested two American citizens as they attempted to board separate flights to Egypt with the intention of continuing to Somalia to join Al Shabaab.  Court documents allege that the men, who watched Al Shabaab videos featuring Hammami, planned to kill American troops who they thought would soon be deployed to Somalia to help fight Al Shabaab.

 

During an Al Shabaab rally In May 2011, Hammami vowed to avenge the death of Osama bin Laden. "Osama is dead but the holy war is not dead. Mujahedeen fighters all over the world are fully prepared to revenge the death of our leader."

 

The following is a sampling of other statements and recordings issued by Hammami on behalf of Al Shabaab, as well as Al Shabaab recordings in which Hammami has appeared:

 

  • On October 7, 2011 Hammami released an audio lecture entitled "Lessons Learned," in which he reflects on over his "five years in southern Somalia."  He characterizes Al Shabaab's fight as a "war of civilizations," in which all Muslims will "have to realize sooner or later that trying to practice your religion in Dar al-Kufr (the land of infidels) is nothing more than a dream world."  He says that "it's necessary for us to prioritize especially in these times of crisis.  So we have to put the liberation of the Muslim lands first.  Jihad and hijrah (emigration from non-Muslim lands) have to be the first order of the day."  He also offers a frank account of day-to-day life of a mujahid, describing of the depravation and boredom they often face, but concludes that the sacrifices are worthwhile and calls on his listeners to come "to the lands of jihad as soon as possible." 

     

  • In April 2011, Hammami released two rap songs on the internet titled "Send Me A Cruise" and "Make Jihad With Me." In "Make Jihad With Me," Hammami calls for attacks on the U.S.: "Allahu Akbar Give Some More Bounty/Attack America Now!/Martyrdom or Victory/We take it Nairobi to Addis – Paradise Inside/Khilafah is here!/We are wiping Israel clear off the globe!

  • In an Al Shabaab video released in May 2010, Hammami can purportedly be heard rapping over footage of militants training for battle.  Hammami's rap included the following line: "Establishing Allah's law on land and sea / My number one goal... die a shahid."
  • Hammami appeared in an Al Shabaab video released in April 2010 featuring a festival for the children of Al Shabaab "martyrs."  Several young boys are shown throughout the video playing with plastic guns and shooting toy AK-47s; one of the boys tells the cameraman he will use his gun to kill the kuffar, or non-Muslims.  Hammami is shown urging a group of mothers to tell their children "to try to be like their hero fathers who were martyred" and encouraging a group of young boys "to continue the fighting started by those heroes."
  • An Al Shabaab video released in September 2009 featured footage from an Al Shabaab training camp, including various shots of Hammami leading a group of Al Shabaab militants.  The video, entitled, "We Are At Your Command, O Osama," also included numerous clips from a previous Osama bin Laden audio recording, in which the Al Qaeda leader urged fighting against the Somali government.

  • In July 2009, Al Shabaab released an audio recording in response to U.S. President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo the previous month.  In the audio, entitled "A Response to Barack Obama: The Beginning of the End," Hammami affirmed Al Shabaab's allegiance to
    Al Qaeda and justified the September 11 terror attacks.  Hammami further criticized the U.S. for supporting Israel, which he deemed "the most vicious evil nation of this modern era."

  • An Al Shabaab video dated July 2008 marked the first video in which Hammami appeared with his face uncovered.  In the video, which was released the following March, Hammami was shown preparing an ambush against Ethiopian troops and explaining that, "the only reason we're staying here, away from our families, away from the cities, away from ice, candy bars, all these other things, is because we're waiting to meet with the enemy."  After the ambush, Hammami again issued an appeal to foreigners to join the jihad in Somalia, saying, "if you can encourage more of your children and more of your neighbors and anyone around you to send people like him to this jihad, it would be a great asset for us."

According to American law enforcement officials, also featured in the video were several Somali-Americans from Minnesota, including Shirwa Ahmed, who, three months later, carried out a series of suicide attacks with four others against the United Nations compound, the Ethiopian Consulate and the presidential palace in Hargeisa, killing 24 people.  

  • In a January 2008 letter, entitled, "A Message to the Mujahideen in Particular and Muslims in General," Hammami explained Al Shabaab's goal to "establish the Islamic Khilaafah [Caliphate] from East to West after removing the occupier and killing the apostates." 

  • Hammami first surfaced as a fighter in Somalia in an October 2007 interview with Al Jazeera, less than a year after his arrival in Somalia.  His face covered with a green scarf, Hammami appealed to Americans to "take into consideration the situation in Somalia.  After 15 years of chaos and oppressive rule by the American-backed warlords, your brothers stood up and established peace and justice in this land." 


Background

Omar Hammami was born in Alabama in 1984. He was raised Baptist and converted to Islam in high school following a family trip to Damascus, his father's hometown.

 

In the fall of 2001, Hammami began studying computer science at the University of South Alabama, where he was president of the Muslim Student Association. Hammami dropped out of school after three semesters and later moved with a friend to Toronto, where he married a Somali-Canadian woman introduced to him by a mutual friend. 

                            

Shortly thereafter, Hammami and his wife moved to Egypt with reported plans to study at Al Azhar University in Cairo.  After his rejection from the university, Hammami settled in Alexandria but grew impatient with living in what he deemed a secular society, according to media reports.

 

In April 2006, Hammami reportedly joined an online forum moderated at the time by Daniel Maldonado, an American convert to Islam who was also living in Egypt and has since been sentenced to 10 years in prison for training with an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group in Somalia.  Hammami apparently first came into contact with Maldonado through the Islamic Network forum and the two soon became friends.  According to a written statement later provided by Maldonado to federal authorities, Hammami and Maldonado planned to move their families to Somalia to live in an Islamic state.  "Me and Omar talked about going and how it may be a security issue being that we are not Somali and we are bearded Muslims," Maldonado wrote, "We also talked about possibly joining the jihad if we went."

 

Months later, Hammami moved to Somalia and joined the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a network of Islamic militant tribes that controlled southern and central Somalia.  He soon became a central figure in
Al Shabaab, the Somali-based extremist group originally formed as the militant wing of the ICU that has waged an insurgency against Somalia's transitional governments and its Ethiopian supporters since the ICU lost power in December 2006.  Maldonado also joined the ICU in Somalia but was captured shortly thereafter by the Kenyan military while trying to flee Somalia.




The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.