US fighter in Somalia says threatened by fellow militants
Sat Mar 17, 2012 8:18pm GMT
(Corrects first para to ... Western-based ... Not ... Western-backed)
* Hammami had urged Western Muslims to join rebels
* Video suggests splits weakening al Shabaab-analysts
* Al Shabaab says surprised by video, investigating
By William Maclean
NAIROBI, March 17 (Reuters) - An influential American fighter for Somalia's
al Shabaab rebels, who has in the past urged Western-based Muslims to join
the group, has dismayed radical Islamists by saying his life is under threat
from fellow guerrillas due to internal disputes.
Experts on Somalia said the video by Omar Hammami suggested splits over
ideology and strategy were weakening al Shabaab, which joined al Qaeda in
February and is fighting to topple Somalia's weak interim government.
Such a public disavowal by a serving member of an al Qaeda aligned militant
organisation is highly unusual, and will be seen as a significant public
relations setback for the movement.
In a video uploaded on Friday, Hammami, who goes by the name Abu Mansour
al-Amriki, says: "To whomever it may reach from the Muslims, I am Abu
"I record this message today because I feel that my life may be endangered
by Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen due to some differences that occurred
between us regarding matters of the Sharia (Islamic law) and matters of
Hammami is an American from Alabama who has in the past uploaded hip-hop
chants taunting the United States and urging it to make him a martyr in a
drone attack. He is a familiar online figure among Western-based communities
of Islamist radicals that support al Shabaab.
In a statement on Twitter, al Shabaab on Saturday said it was "surprised" by
the video, a formal investigation was underway and the group was still
attempting to verify the authenticity as well as the motivations behind the
"We assure our Muslim brothers that al-Amriki is not endangered by the
Mujahideen and our brother still enjoys all the privileges of brotherhood,"
it added, using a term that refers generally to Islamic guerrilla groups or
Somalia has been in shambles since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad
Barre in 1991. Fighting has killed more than 21,000 people since al Shabaab
launched its insurgency in 2007, and possibly over one million in 20 years.
The rebels are fighting to topple the Mogadishu government and impose a
harsh brand of Islamic sharia law on Somalia.
"UNITY OF PURPOSES"
A Kenyan Islamist group, the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC), which is a vocal
online supporter of al Shabaab, issued several messages on its Twitter
account on Saturday that appeared to be a response to Hammami's video.
They did not refer to the American, but referred to "rumours or facts of al
Shabaab's disunity among senior members" and called on "our brothers in al
Shabaab to demonstrate unity of purpose" by carrying out more attacks such
as one on March 14 in which a suicide bomber killed four people onside the
presidential palace compound in Mogadishu.
Counter-terrorism experts suggested that the Hammami video would have a
demoralising effect on al Shabaab's foreign fighters, believed to number
several hundred including some U.S. and other Western nationals, because it
indicated that there were divisions near the top of the organisation.
One independent expert on al Shabaab said that Hammami was seen as selfish
by some inside the organisation and was known for attention seeking
Another expert, Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism consultant in the United States,
said: "Hammami has a long history of classic narcissistic behaviour, and
before he joined al-Shabaab, he was notorious for getting into nasty online
arguments with other Muslim extremists over rather silly points of
"He has a very high opinion of himself and his knowledge of Islam, and
frankly, I'm not entirely surprised to hear that al-Shabaab might have grown
tired of his constant pedantry."
Ben Venzke of Intelcenter, a US-based terrorism monitoring group, said it
was unprecedented in recent history for a member "of a major terrorist group
to release a video fearing for his life from the very group he joined."
"He has played a significant role in recruiting new fighters to al-Shabaab
and is believed to have been on track for a growing role and profile not
only in the group but in the broader jihadi community.
"The mere release of the video, not to mention if al-Shabaab kills him, is a
damaging blow to the jihadists that he inspired to go to Somalia and join
al-Shabaab. It is unclear if this development has anything to do with the
group's formal joining of al-Qaeda." (Editing by James Macharia and Andrew
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Sat Mar 17 2012 - 19:58:07 EDT