Omar Hammami, the intellectually gifted, popular, church-going teen from small town Daphne, Ala., who turned into a rap song-writing and performing al Qaeda propagandist, was reportedly killed in an ambush on Thursday in southern Somalia.
The ambush, according to the Associated Press, was ordered by the leader of Hammami’s terrorist organization – the Somalia-based al-Shabaab, a barbaric group whose members in 2008 stoned to death a 13-year-old rape victim in a stadium filled with spectators.
Hammami, 29, who adopted the name Abu Mansoor al-Amriki – meaning “the American” – had reportedly been on the run from his fellow jihadists for several months after a falling-out with al-Shabaab’s leadership. He had accused al-Shabaab’s leaders of living extravagant lifestyles on the taxes collected by the group’s fighters from Somalis, according to the AP. He was also on the run from U.S. He was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list with a $5 million reward for his capture.
“To have an American citizen that has risen to this kind of rank in a terrorist organization – we have not seen that before,” a senior U.S. law enforcement official told The New York Times in 2010.
The Intelligence Report wrote about Hammami and his transformation from Alabama high school kid to ruthless terrorist in 2011 as part of a cover story on homegrown jihadists 10 years after the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
With Hammami’s reported death on Thursday, three of the 10 homegrown jihadists profiled by the Report have been killed. Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, and Samir Khan, who grew up in Charlotte, N.C., were killed in a U.S. drone attack in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011.
Hammami had become the public face of al-Shabaab and was known for releasing videos with English-language rap songs intended to promote jihad to Western youth. He grew up on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, dated one of the prettiest girls in town, was class president of his high school as a sophomore and was compared by a classmate to the mischievous, coming-of-age movie hero “Ferris Bueller.”
His father was a Muslim immigrant from Syria. His mother was a Southern Baptist. Hammami grew up as a Christian. But the outgoing boy known for his personal magnetism began to change after returning home from a trip to Syria as a teenager. After converting to Islam in his junior year of high school, he swore at his English teacher for being Jewish and tried to choke a student who interrupted him while he was reciting the Koran.
At the University of South Alabama, he started wearing ankle-length gowns used by Gulf Arabs and adopted a strict personal code of conduct before dropping out in 2002. He moved to Toronto, where he married a Somali woman, and then moved on to Egypt and eventually Somalia, where he first surfaced publicly in 2007.
By 2009, he reportedly showed his face on camera for the first time, appearing in a sophisticated 30-minute recruitment video with anti-American hip-hop music and images of Osama bin Laden. The video depicted Hammami leading al-Shabaab militants in an ambush of Somali forces.
Over the years, there have been previous reports of his death. After one such report, Hammami soon resurfaced with two new songs that appeared on the Internet – including one, “Send Me a Cruise,” in which he begs for martyrdom.
It looks like he has finally gotten his wish. A U.S. terrorism expert who closely follows the inner workings of al-Shabaab told the AP that he thinks the current reports of the death of the rapping jihadist are accurate.