Omar Hammami, born in Alabama to a Southern Baptist mother and a Sunni Muslim immigrant from Syria, was reported killed Thursday in Somalia, where he had gone to wage jihad with the group that apparently put him to death. Multiple reports said Hammami, who was known as Al-Ameriki and “the rapping jihadi,” was killed along with a British citizen of Pakistani descent known as Osama al-Britani, after forming a splinter faction from al-Shabab, the al Qaeda-affiliated militant group that had been hunting him for months, according to Hammami.
When Shabab fighters closed in on Hammamii in the Bay and Bakool area of southern Somalia, the men apparently fell victim to the internecine conflict typical both of radical political groups and of Somalia, which has had no functional central government since 1991. Various clans and neighboring nations still dominate the major cities, while al-Shabaab, which translates as The Youth, is confined to the scrubby, sandy countryside where the firefight erupted early Thursday, outside the village of Dinsoor, according to the BBC.
Hammami, 29, had been a figure of fascination for his American roots and an appetite for attention that added to the friction with al-Shabab, which last year tweeted about his “narcissistic pursuit of fame.” True to form, Hammami had countered earlier reports of his death (including one that claimed he was done in by a U.S. drone) by releasing videos and hip-hop tracks. “Just been shot in neck by shabab assassin. not critical yet,” he tweeted in April. The State Department offered $5 million for information leading to his capture.
For a time, al-Shabab thrived in the chaos of Somalia. But the group was confronted by troops from neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya and the African Union, and left the capital Mogadishu in 2011. Infighting has taken a toll; so has a theological rigidity that clashes with Somalia’s more diverse traditions. On Thursday, 160 Somali religious scholars issued a fatwa denouncing al-Shabab as having “no place in Islam.” But the group continues to threaten efforts to build a core government in Somalia, taking responsibility for a Sept. 7 car bomb that killed 15 people at a Mogadishu restaurant popular with journalists and politicians.