The Alabama man wanted by the FBI and indicted for providing support to one of the most ruthless Al Qaeda franchises has no regrets about his life on the lam in Somalia but misses his parents, his sister Dena and a few Western pleasures, including Tim Hortons coffee.
Hadaladiisi waxaa ka mida ahaa(
Immediately after leaving the checkpoint there is a feeling like entering a new world. There are Tim Horten’s (sic) fast-food joints all over the place and people speak from their nose . . . We used to have a blast asking the Canadians we met: “How ’bout that hockey eh? Wanna have a coffee at Tim Horten’s or should I get ya a Fresca?”
Everything is the same, but slightly different. Dollars are called ‘Loonies’ and a two dollar coin is a ‘Toonie.’ That became important on one occasion because I think I got badgered in the airport once for not knowing what a bloody ‘Loonie’ is.
But, eventuallyI got used to the accent and I started to have an addiction to Tim Horten’s coffee.
— From online autobiography of Omar Hammami)
Omar Hammami writes in his online autobiography that he just wants three days to visit the all-American life he had before leaving for Mogadishu in 2006 and becoming one of the most recognizable foreign faces of Somalia’s war.
“After going through all the hugs and kisses, me and Dena would probably go running around town laughing our heads off and talking about a billion things without ever finishing a conversation about any of them,” he writes near the end of the 127-page document posted Wednesday. “I’d like to make a round of the restaurants and get some Chinese food, some hot wings, some Nestle ice cream, some gourmet coffee, and a slew of other foods and beverages.”
It’s the only time Hammami, better known to his followers and in counterterrorism circles by this nom de guerre, Abu Mansour “Al-Amriki” (the American), waxes longingly about his Alabama upbringing in his writing.
Hammami, 28, was born and raised in Alabama by a Southern Baptist mother and Syrian-born father, an engineer who had immigrated to the U.S.
As Hammami writes, he was “brought up like most of the children in America.” He had a crush on a girl named Lacey and hatred for a boy named Zack. He celebrated Christmas and birthdays and went hunting like one of the “good old boys” on holidays.
“My accuracy with the shot gun those days was not as good as my accuracy with the AK though,” he writes, later explaining the weapons training he received among Somali jihadists who favour the AK-47.
Hammami’s year in Toronto came after he converted to Islam and quit university in 2002, dashing his father’s dream that he would become a surgeon.
He writes that it wasn’t 9/11 and the backlash on Muslims that “radicalized” him, but rather describes a long journey looking for purpose that eventually led him to Mogadishu.
Hammami came to Toronto to pursue a relationship with an Ethiopian woman. It didn’t work out, but while he was in Toronto in 2004, he married a Somalia-born woman and they moved together to Cairo, where they had a daughter. (She later left him, refusing to join him in Mogadishu, and told him by phone that she wanted a divorce.)
“I told her that I live under a tree and that I am speaking from a mountain,” he wrote. “She didn’t seem to understand. She refused to come to Somalia and insisted that I should simply come back to Canada and live happily ever after (fat chance!)”
It was in Cairo that Hammami met another American named Daniel Maldonado and they decided to go to Somalia, where an Islamic group had taken over the capital. Maldonado was later arrested in Kenya and deported to the U.S., where in 2007 he was sentenced to 10 years in jail for receiving military training from a terrorist organization.
The authenticity of Hammami’s writings can’t be verified but those who have tracked his ascent over the years say the voice — self-aggrandizing, flip and somewhat naïve — sounds like his.
“It’s so juvenile. You get a sense this is a high school kid writing about things that are really mundane for average people, let alone someone considered a serious jihadist high on terrorism lists around the world,” says Abdi Aynte, who has written extensively on Hammami.
Aynte is among those who believe Hammami’s role in the organization has been overstated.
Christopher Anzalone, a doctoral student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University, notes that while Hammami may be key in recruiting other foreigners, his operational value remains ambiguous.
“Despite his very public persona in the news media, particularly in North America, Hammami’s exact position and role in Al Shabab has largely been the subject of speculation,” Anzalone wrote in a recent post on Al-Wasat, an academic blog on the Muslim world.
Whatever Hammami’s importance to the group, it is hard to rectify his writing littered with quips, jokes and many “Ha Ha”s with the fanatic who has been designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as an international terrorist and the Shabab’s “military tactician, recruitment strategist and financial manager.”
He whines about bowel problems from camel’s milk, the physical training and “ferocious army ants.”
One of his biggest disappointments seems to be the fact that he was forced to “chop off his golden locks.” He just stared at the fallen hair “and almost wanted to cry,” he writes.
Explaining one sleepless night, he notes: “I remember praying for the enemy to hurry up and come so that I could become a martyr and leave the mosquitoes to the less fortunate.”
He uses sports analogies and jokes that the U.S. drones flying overhead are “racist” because they target Arab or white foreigners.
Those mining the document for intelligence on the organization won’t find much, except confirmation that in the early days he met — largely by chance — some of the organization’s top leaders.
He also confirms the role of Yemenis in the organization as trainers — something that has worried authorities lately as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula continues to grow in southern Yemen amid the instability there.
But the writing stops before describing recent operations or reported rifts within the Shabab that have placed Hammami at odds with some of the Somali leaders.
In March, Hammami posted a video saying he feared for his life.
He dates the writing May 16, 2012, and signs it, “Still alive and well.”