American Jihadi 'Omar Hammami's Dissent From Somali Al-Qaeda Affiliate Al-Shabab Al-Mujahideen, Part I: A Chronicle Of Events
No. 918 - January 10, 2013
On March 16, 2012, 'Omar Hammami, aka Abu Mansour Al-Amriki, published a video in which he claimed his life was endangered by the Al-Qaeda affiliate group Al-Shabab Al-Mujahideen. The video came as a surprise, considering that Hammami was the highest-profile foreign fighter with Al-Shabab and appeared in several of its propaganda videos. It was later followed by two additional videos in which Hammami claimed that Al-Shabab was targeting its foreign (muhajireen) fighters, and urged Al-Qaeda's leadership to come to his aid. Now, almost a year after the release of the first video voicing concerns for his life, Hammami's dispute with Al-Shabab still appears to be far from a resolution. Though its actual impact on Al-Shabab is difficult to assess at present, Hammami's claims may shed light on the dynamics within Al-Shabab, as well as on the dynamics between Al-Qaeda central and its affiliate groups, dynamics to which the public have not generally been privy.
Part I is this series will present the chronicles of the Hammami-Al-Shabab affair since it became public in March 2012.
Social Media Plays A Key Role In The Al-Shabab-Hammami Affair, Particularly YouTube And Twitter
It is noteworthy that when seeking to voice his message, Hammami has relied almost entirely on the use of social media. The videos he released, in addition to the several essays and autobiography he wrote, were all published on the YouTube channel and Twitter account associated with him. Hammami's Twitter account also became a forum for pro-Al-Shabab voices, which challenged the former's allegations against the group. Interestingly, Twitter was also used by Shafik Hammami, Hammami's father, who sent his son his "unconditional" love and offered him his prayers.
Al-Shabab, in turn, has grown increasingly impatient with Hammami's claims, especially considering the latter's decision to share them openly and publicly. Thus far, Hammami's actions have incurred renouncement from the organization, which has threatened potential defectors from the group with death. Similarly, according to Hammami, the organization, as of early January 2013, gave him a two-week ultimatum to surrender his weapons or face death.
Noteworthy, as well, is the lack of any response from the Al-Qaeda leadership so far to Hammami's appeal for intervention. Indeed, Hammami's affair with Al-Shabab has, as yet, remained of largely local interest, and has failed to generate any significant response from the global jihadi community at large. In fact, the closest "global" response to Hammami's messages came in an April 24, 2012 communiqué issued by the Al-Qaeda affiliate media company Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), in which the latter warned people against spreading rumors about Al-Shabab.
The Hammami-Al Shabab Dispute: A Chronicle Of Events
Below is a timeline chronicling the main events of the Hammami-Al Shabab affair as they unfolded over the past year:
March 16, 2012: Hammami's first urgent message, in which he says his life is endangered by Al-Shabab
March 17, 2012: Al-Shabab says it poses no threat to Hammami
April 5, 2012: Al-Shabab warns that defectors will be executed
April 24, 2012: GIMF warns against spreading rumors about Al-Shabab
May 15, 2012: Hammami publishes Part I of his English autobiography
September 28, 2012: Al-Shabab denies split of Al-Hizb Al-Islami from its ranks
October 19, 2012: Hammami's second urgent message, in which he asks Al-Qaeda leadership to intervene
December 17, 2012: Al-Shabab renounces Hammami
December 21, 2012: Hammami responds to Al-Shabab's renunciation, says it is targeting foreign fighters
January 5, 2013: Hammami, via Twitter, says Al-Shabab has given him two weeks to surrender or face death. Hammami's father tweets: 'Your Mom's And Dad's Love Is Unconditional'
January 7, 2013: Hammami's third (and possibly final) appeal to Al-Qaeda's leadership for help
January 7, 2013: Hammami publishes two letters in Arabic discussing rift within Al-Shabab; accuses Al-Shabab of killing key Al-Qaeda operatives
Hammami's journey, beginning with his enlistment in the ranks of Al-Shabab, and ending with his renouncement by the organization in December 2012 – particularly the recent chain of events commencing with Hammami's decision to expose Al-Shabab's internal problems – cannot be properly understood outside the larger context of the history of jihad in Somalia, its key players, the power struggles among them, Somalia's tribalism and its role in shaping coalitions, and, as Hammami's recently noted, the "Somali character, which rejects foreign intervention and suggestions by others." Forthcoming installments in this series will analyze Hammami's recently published Arabic essays, which revealed the rift within the Al-Shabab movement, the culmination of events leading to Al-Shabab's official joining of the Al-Qaeda organization, and Al-Shabab's attitude towards its foreign fighters.
*M. Khayat is a research fellow at MEMRI.