Omar Hammami, the 28-year-old American from Alabama who joined an al-Qaida-affiliated Islamic militant group fighting in Somalia, has just published his 125-page memoir online, confirming that he is alive, contrary to the numerous reports that he was beheaded last month. I spent the morning with Hammami’s parents at their home in Daphne, Ala., who until our meeting still were unsure if their son was alive.
Reading from Hammami’s memoir, which was posted online today, Shafik and Debra Hammami gave Current TV an exclusive interview. Hammami was the subject of Vanguard’s 2010 documentary “American Jihadi,” which documented his journey from Alabama to the front lines of Somalia and the reaction from his friends back home.
After viewing “American Jihadi,” Hammami made contact exclusively with Current TV three weeks ago, indicating that he was ready to tell his story.
“I just know that there are a lot of people who would like to see me dead,” Hammami told me in one of our first exchanges, “and one day the report will be a real one.”
Al Shabaab is an Islamic militant group within Somalia with direct ties to al-Qaida. Late last year the group lost control of the capital, Mogadishu, and is losing power in the rest of the country and fracturing. Al Shabaab has also suffered military and political setbacks in its fight with U.S.-backed foreign forces and Somalia’s U.N.-backed transitional government.
Once considered a key figure of Al Shabaab’s leadership, posting videos on YouTube of himself leading battles in the field and recruiting other Muslim Westerners to join him in Somalia, Hammami appears to have fallen out of favor with the weakened organization and is currently in hiding alone. In March, he posted a video in which he described his fears that Al Shabaab may plan to kill him.
Hammami has been indicted on terrorism charges and is wanted by the FBI. When I asked if he would consider surrendering to the U.S., Hammami replied, “Of course not! I didn’t leave America for a thrill ride with the hopes of finding a get-out-of-jail-free card at the end of the boardwalk. This is a struggle of creed, culture and civilization that won’t end until Islam is supreme. My life is just one drop in the bucket in the endeavor of achieving that great aspiration. I wouldn’t trade the blessing of martyrdom in this cause for anything in this world or even all of it 10 times over.”
Hammami’s online memoir, written in English, details his journey from a suburban American kid raised Baptist to a jihadist on the front lines in Somalia, offering a rare look into one of the most notorious Islamic militant groups in the world. In his memoir, he describes his decision to leave his wife and young daughter to join forces with Al Shabaab in Somalia.
The narrative — sometimes dramatic, sometimes riveting — is part diary, part travel guide, part jihadi training manual, filled with schoolboy wonder, humor, self-doubt, bravado and, at times, transfixing fear. During guerrilla battles with an Ethiopian enemy, Hammami would find himself hungry and thirsty for days and would dream about ice cream cones and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
“Brothers were left to fend for themselves, having no maps, no money, no source of food and no source of water,” he writes. “Some brothers were blessed with too much water, others were forced to drink urine and eat the roots of plants. Some ran into the jettisoned can food of the Ethiopians, while others were forced to eat maggots and snails.”
Hammami sought me out and found a way to contact me undetected. After a few exchanges, he asked, “Do you think I’m some wicked, bloodthirsty madman? Or some naïve, lost little boy?”
I’ve yet to answer. Current will update as the story continues to develop.