Somali terrorist Mukhtar Robow recently surrendered to the Somali government after a falling out with al-Shabaab leadership in the Bakool jungle area. That power struggle also claimed Omar Hammami, an American whose rap lyrics helped recruit westerners to the jihadist cause.
When not quarreling with each other, al-Shabaab jihadists carried out attacks such as the April 2015 raid on Garissa University in Kenya. There they gunned down more than 100 non-Muslims, beheaded many, and kidnapped female students in the style of Boko Haram.
The previous month al-Shabaab killed nearly 20 at the Al-Mukarramah Hotel in Mogadishu, and in February, 2015 the group killed 25 and wounded 40 at Mogadishu’s Central Hotel. In December 2014 al-Shabbab gunmen killed 36 at a Kenya quarry, shooting and beheading the non-Muslims. The previous month they shot dead 28 non-Muslim bus passengers who were unable to recite an Islamic declaration.
In September 2013 al-Shabaab massacred at least 67 at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. And as Ugandans watched the World Cup final on television in July, 2010, al-Shabaab jihadists detonated bombs that killed 76 people.
Muktar Robow served as al-Shabaab’s deputy director and spiritual leader after training with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. In June, the United States cancelled the $5 million reward for his capture, and some think that might have played a role in his surrender. He also fled a purge of al-Shabaab leaders started by Ahmed Abdi Godane.
An American drone strike took out Godane in 2014, but not before he had killed Ibrahim Afghani, an al-Shabaab founder, and Omar Hammami, an American jihadist and rapper. Son of a Syrian immigrant, Hammami hailed from Daphne, Alabama, near Mobile. He jettisoned his mother’s Christian faith for Islam and in 2006 left the United States for Somalia.
There Omar Hammami fell in with al-Shabaab where he was known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, “the American.” In 2010 he became a celebrity of sorts, subject of a nearly 9,000-word feature in the New York Times Magazine. The piece charted his youthful fondness for soccer and popular music, and how he brandished a stick to wield against “faggots.” All told, the American Muslim became a good fit with al-Shabaab.
These “rebels,” the profile explained, “are known for beheading political enemies, chopping off the hands of thieves and stoning women accused of adultery.” In the three years since Hammami made his way to Somalia, “his ascent into the Shabaab’s leadership has put him in a class of his own.”
Abu Mansoor al-Amriki “exercises a more powerful role, commanding guerrilla forces in the field, organizing attacks and plotting strategy with Qaeda operatives.” He has also “emerged as something of a jihadist icon, starring in a recruitment campaign that has helped draw hundreds of foreign fighters to Somalia.”
He did that by putting “a contemporary face on al Shabaab’s medieval tactics.” A propaganda video shows him leading a squad of terrorists, backdropped by a “soundtrack of jihadi rap.” For all its length, the profile failed to include any of Omar Hammami’s lyrics, such as:
“Blow by blow, crime by crime, only gonna add to my avenging rhymes.”
So the American jihadi knew what he was about, and he also showed a nostalgic side.
“Bomb by bomb, blast by blast,” he chanted. “Only gonna bring back the glorious past.”
And so on. The video got thousands of views and added to Hammami’s mystique. He blasted away, and his American homeland offered a $5 million reward for the Alabama-grown jihadi. Trouble was, his slick video also attracted foreign fighters who sometimes clashed with al-Shabaab’s not exactly cosmopolitan Somali leaders.
Hammami criticized them for extravagant lifestyles and failing to surge jihadist violence beyond Somalia. That did not sit well with Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Abdi Godane. He led the purge against foreign fighters and reportedly took down Hammami in an ambush. It was the sort of fate the American anticipated.
“Drip by drip, shot by shot,” he rapped, “only gonna give us the death we sought.”
As J.M. Berger of Intelwire told reporters, “Hammami brought a lot of unwelcome outside scrutiny on Shabaab from the international jihadist community. His story will likely be a case study on what can go wrong when westerners join jihadist movements.”
Many westerners have done so, including American John Walker Lindh, captured on November 25, 2001, fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. “Jihad Johnny” drew a 20-year sentence and is slated for release within two years.
In the meantime, President Trump should not pardon the American Taliban and not give him $10.5 million plus an apology, as Justin Trudeau did with Canadian al-Qaeda fighter Omar Khadr. That too is case study of what can go wrong when westerners join jihadist movements.
Those movements will carry on despite the surrender of Mukhtar Robow and the murder of Omar Hammami.
“Blow by blow, year by year, keepin’ those kaffirs livin’ in fear,” the American rapped. “Land by land, war by war, we gonna make our black flag soar.”
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