US-born jihadist reported killed in Somalia
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Omar Hammami - an Alabama-born militant better known as "al Amriki" (the American) - was killed in Somalia on Thursday in a shootout with his former al Shabaab comrades, according to witness accounts.
A top US-born commander of the al Qaeda-linked militant group al Shabaab was killed in a shootout with other Islamist fighters in Somalia on Thursday, according to witnesses, in a major development that underscored the disarray in the Islamist group’s ranks.
Omar Hammami, also called Abu Mansour al Amriki – or “the American” – was killed in a gun battle with his former al Shabaab comrades near the southern Somali settlement of Bardhere, according to several witness reports.
"There was a gun battle between Amriki and his men and other fighters. The reports are that Amriki is among those killed," Moalim Ali, a Bardhere resident, told AFP on Thursday.
Another resident, Mohamed Wardhere, said, “Amriki and two other fighters, one of them [a] foreigner, have been killed near Bardhere".
According to the BBC, Hammami and a British citizen of Pakistani origin, Osama al-Britani, died in an early morning ambush.
While the reports were difficult to confirm due to the security situation on the ground, journalists and analysts have described Thursday’s accounts as credible.
US terrorism analyst J. M. Berger of Intelwire told Associated Press that reports of Amriki’s death are “very likely true'' based on the sources he sees online. Berger said “credible jihadi sources'' had never reported Hammami dead before, though Somali government officials had.
Alabama-born Hammami was a well-known figure in Somali jihadist circles, earning him a $5 million US government bounty.
“He was a senior figure in al Shabaab ranks and was influential in recruiting foreign fighters to the group,” said Mary Harper, a BBC correspondent and author of the book “Getting Somalia Wrong”, in a phone interview with FRANCE 24. “His killing shows the disarray that al Shabaab has fallen into.”
Divisions in the ranks
Indications of Hammami’s fallout with senior al Shabaab members emerged last year, when the Alabama-born militant released a video saying his life was under threat from fellow al Shabaab fighters.
In a video released in March 2012, Hammami announced that his life “may be endangered by Harakat al Shabaab al Mujahideen due to some differences that occurred between us regarding matters of the sharia and matters of strategy”.
Harakat al Shabaab al Mujahideen is the official name of the al Shabaab group, which controlled much of central and southern Somalia until a combined force of African Union peacekeepers and Ethiopian troops drove them out of their urban strongholds in 2011.
A controversial figure who appeared in several videos, Hammami was one of the most prolific militants in jihadist media circles. His propaganda output included rap songs deriding US President Barack Obama and soliloquies on the life of a holy warrior.
Months after Hammami released a video statement claiming his life was in danger, al Shabaab released a statement that the American jihadist had been kicked out of the group.
In a post on al Shabaab’s Twitter feed [@HSMPress] in December 2012 the group announced that “Abu Mansour al-Amriki does not, in any way, shape or form, represent the views” of the group.
The divisions took a deadly turn earlier this year when fighters loyal to top al Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane killed two of their own senior commanders.
The Somali militant group, which claimed allegiance to al Qaeda in 2011, has long been plagued by tensions between local Somali militants (called ansars) and foreign fighters, known as muhajirin.
But following the group’s ousting from the Somali capital of Mogadishu and the key port city of Kismayu, al Shabaab came under renewed pressure, fracturing the group into multiple rival factions, some based along clan lines and others ideological.
Hammami, a fluent Arabic and Somali speaker who arrived in Somalia in 2006, was a prominent muhajirin leader who played a critical role in recruiting foreign fighters in what Western intelligence agencies have dubbed “the jihadi tourism trail”
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