American jihadi in Somalia writes an autobiography
Omar Hammami, an American jihadist from Alabama, wrote a 127-page book about his experience fighting on the front lines with Somalia's Al Qaeda affiliate, Al Shabab.
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He dropped out of university, moved to Canada where a friend helped him find a wife, a Somali refugee, and he took menial jobs including delivering milk to Toronto’s large Somali community. Eventually he left North America for Egypt, where he wanted to study.Skip to next paragraph
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September 11, he says, did not “radicalize” him. “I took things a bit more intellectually than that. But by the time the Iraq war started I could not find any way for us to say that it is anything less than obligatory to fight the Americans.”
Soon after arriving in Alexandria, Egypt, he met another American Muslim, Abu Muhammad al-Amriiki, born Daniel Maldonado, and the two began plotting to join the war raging in Somalia between Islamist forces and the weak Western-backed government.
After a fretful journey from Cairo to Dubai and then to Mogadishu, when he worried that he would be stopped as “a lone white man” on the flight, he eventually arrived in the Somali capital, only to be disappointed that “I did not see people that looked like Al Qaeda on every street corner”.
He eventually joined with young international fighters based in Kismayo, now Al Shabab’s stronghold in Somalia’s far south.
Boot camp, with beatings
There follows a long stretch of writing about his “torturous” training, which included performing push-ups on broken glass and long marches on empty stomachs being beaten by senior commanders – once between his legs.
“I became fatigued. I told him that he will pay the full blood money if I find out that I won’t be able to reproduce, but everyone thought it was funny, so the torture continued,” Hammami writes.
The book is a strange mixture of childish humor (he writes “ha ha” a lot to indicate something he found funny) and deadly serious description of his life with Al Shabab.
When he chose to go to the front-line during battles between the Islamists and Ethiopian troops in Somalia, there are more descriptions of sharing ambush sites with biting ants, being almost attacked by a snake, and hearing lions encircle his camp, than there are about the actual conflict.
Constant squabbles between Al Shabab commanders worry him. He is "irked" by vehicles breaking down, a lack of water rations and meager food. “Sometimes I found myself irking myself out, because I would inevitably remember a time [in America] when my pocket was full of change and I carelessly drove past an ice cream parlor, a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, a café, or even a convenience store without so much as stopping for a treat,” he says.
But his desire to oppose what he sees as unjust American battles against Islam remains strong, despite the hardships, he concludes. “It was only when I had become completely convinced that jihad is truly incumbent upon me as an individual that I took it upon myself to make that huge leap," he writes.
“I knew that I was going to become a fugitive for the rest of my life when I made that decision. I was well into the post-9/11 era. Someone seeking a thrill or a hippy's mid-summer’s night dream doesn't normally consciously burn his bridges like that.
“The real fear that the Americans feel when they see an American in Somalia talking about jihad, is not how skilful he is at sneaking back across the borders with nuclear weapons.
“The Americans fear that their cultural barrier has been broken and now jihad has become a normal career choice for any youthful American Muslim."
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