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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Best-Liked on the Most-Wanted

The 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.

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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