Omar Hammami, the Alabama-born Jihadist who abandoned his roots to join an Islamic extremist group in Somalia, publicly spoke out against the beleaguered Al Shabaab militants on Friday and appealed to al-Qaida for help.
Hammami, 28, who goes by the name Abu Mansour Al Amriki (the American), posted a video of himself on YouTube condemning his former comrades in arms, accusing them of mistreating foreign recruits and ignoring the principles of their Islamic faith, focused only on retaining power for themselves.
In an exclusive interview with Current TV that Hammami gave from Somalia, he said that he knew the brash tactic could get him killed, but that he felt it was important to speak out about how Al Shabaab is “running a police state to keep those in power in power, as opposed to what is in the best interest of Islam.”
“They don’t have any other objective and it’s gotten out of hand,” he added. “Our entire work is to keep one guy in power on his throne.”
Like the rest of Al Shabaab, Hammami has been on the run for months as U.S.-backed Kenyan and Ethiopian forces have pushed the militant group out of Somalia’s population centers and deeper into the countryside.
I first profiled Hammami in the “Vanguard” documentary, “American Jihadi,” two years ago without ever having made contact with him. However, five months ago, after he was rumored to be dead, he reached out to me and we began a brief correspondence before he disappeared in late May after African Union troops began driving Al Shabaab out of their strongholds. Earlier this week, I was awakened at 3 a.m. and realized he was contacting me again from somewhere in Somalia.
While Hammami no longer has access to the Internet, he arranged for the previously recorded video, titled “An Urgent Message,” to be uploaded to YouTube this morning using the same account that was used to post his last video in March. Wearing the same clothes and in the same room as in his earlier video, he speaks to the camera in Arabic, condemning Al Shabaab’s leadership, its unwillingness to take Jihad beyond the borders of Somalia, and its poor treatment of foreign mujahedeen fighters. He says he has tried repeatedly to resolve the conflict peacefully, but without success and appealed to al-Qaida for its help in resolving the breach.
After leaving his family to join Islamic fighters in the failed African state, Hammami quickly rose in the ranks of the Jihadist forces, recruiting many foreign fighters like himself using the tools of the Internet and advocating international revolution against Islam’s enemies with the Somali group in which he was once regarded as a major force.
When asked why he chose to release the video at this time, he claimed he was fed up with Al Shabaab’s “continuous oppression” and regrets not speaking out sooner. He said he’d spent much of the past few months in isolation from his former allies and hiding from the African Union forces, which gave him time to think about his duties as a Muslim. While his disillusionment with Al Shabaab was “a long time coming,” he concluded that it was time to “stand up for the oppressed” after a fellow foreign fighter was jailed by the militant group without trial or explanation.
“They are imprisoning people without any proof of crime and without trial,” he told me, adding that Al Shabaab leaders commonly “suppress anyone they suspect might one day challenge their authority.”
His friend, who Hammami would only describe as “Arab,” had also been sent to a “brutal” Jihadi training camp, where he claimed three recruits recently died from abuse and starvation by their trainers. In defense of his friend, Hammami, who himself is under indictment in the United States accused of aiding terrorists, said the Islamic militants “haven’t charged him with anything … It doesn’t make any sense.”
Hammami is well aware that making such a public break with the al-Qaida-linked militia he joined six years ago is a dangerous move.
“It’s a wager to see if anything will come from telling the truth,” Hammami said, “but for the sake of history, I have to get the real story out there.”
Current will continue following this story as it develops.