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Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Best-Liked on the Most-WantedThe State Department announced today it was offering $5 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of American jihadists Omar Hammami and Jehad Mostafa, both of whom are involved with Al Shabab, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia.
For months now, it's been the worst-kept secret in the world that Hammami hangs out on Twitter, occasionally sparring with his fellow Shabab members, with whom he has fallen out, and more often talking to and joking around with American terrorism analysts and scholars, including myself and Clint Watts of Selected Wisdom, who has been banging out extensive analysis of Hammami's comments and Al Shabab's general state of disrepair. Even the State Department, which is sponsoring the reward, has been Twitterfighting with Hammami in Arabic.
All of this social interaction has resulted in a weird sort of camaraderie, which may be more like Stockholm Syndrome on Hammami's part, given his difficult situation. But when Rusty Shackleford of the hardcore Jawa Report says he's "fond" of you, it's a sign you you're doing terrorism terribly wrong... or maybe you're doing it exactly right... I don't know, it's all kind of confusing.
An FBI official told CNN the two American Shababis "had a persistent interest in targeting U.S. interests" and are "believed to be involved in planning attacks on U.S. persons or property," although Hammami's account on Twitter depicts a more modest daily regimen of buying tea and riding donkeys while hoping no one from Shabab shows up to kill him on any given day. While Hammami is a master of spin, as seen in his tweets and online autobiography, I suspect his account is pretty accurate.
My question about this reward is: Why now? Hammami has split from Al Shabab's leadership and is sowing a remarkable amount of discontent, particularly among other foreign fighters who have joined Shabab. He's even disavowed the jihadi raps previously attributed to him. I have little doubt that he would love to get back to scheming against America, but he doesn't seem to be a $5 million threat at the moment, and frankly, don't we want him over there there stirring up trouble? In fact, the person with the most capability and motivation to collect that reward is Abu Zubair, Shabab's current leader, who would like nothing better than to be rid of this meddlesome priest.
But the real lesson from all this? Sucks to be "Jehad Who?"
UPDATE: Omar responds to the news on Twitter:
For more about American jihadists, check out J.M. Berger's new book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, on sale everywhere.
Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.
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ISIS: THE STATE
Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger co-author the forthcoming book, "ISIS: The State of Terror," from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book, which will debut in early 2015, will examine the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, its potential fall, how it is transforming the nature of extremist movements, and how we should evaluate the threat it presents. Jessica Stern is a Harvard lecturer on terrorism and the author of the seminal text Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. J.M. Berger is author of the definitive book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy, and editor of Intelwire.com.