MOGADISHU, Somalia — An American who became one of Somalia’s most visible Islamic rebels and was on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list with a $5 million bounty on his head was killed Thursday by rivals in the al-Qaida-linked extremist group al-Shabab, militants said.
The killing of Omar Hammami, an Alabama native known for his rap-filled propaganda videos, may discourage other would-be jihadis from the U.S. and elsewhere from travelling to Somalia, terrorism experts said.
Hammami, whose nom de guerre was Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, or “the American,” was killed in an ambush in southern Somalia following months on the run after falling out with al-Shabab’s top leader, the militants said.
Reports of Hammami’s death have cropped up every few months in Somalia, only for him to resurface. But J.M. Berger, a U.S. terrorism expert who closely follows the inner workings of al-Shabab, said he thinks the current reports are accurate.
The rebels did not immediately present proof of Hammami’s death.
Hammami was highly critical of al-Shabab’s leadership over the past year and freely shared his views in Internet videos and on Twitter, making him a marked man.
Somalia has long been an attractive destination for foreign fighters, and al-Shabab counts several hundred foreign fighters among its ranks, including about two dozen Somali-Americans from Minneapolis recruited over the past several years.
Hammami’s death will hurt the group’s recruitment efforts, said Abdirizak Bihi, an advocate for the Somali community in Minnesota and the uncle of a young man killed in Somalia in 2008.
“We always knew the Somalis inside Somalia knew that al-Shabab was bad,” Bihi said. “We were concerned about the Somalis in the diaspora . . . who never really knew the facts on the ground and were always manipulated and misled.”
“So that’s why it’s a victory. They now know exactly what al-Shabab is, as much as the Somalis inside.”
Terrorism expert Clint Watts wrote on his blog, Selectedwisdom.com, that Hammami’s plight “probably soured recruitment pipelines from the West into Somalia.”