It's a rare writer who publishes an autobiography at age 28. But, if for nothing else, give former Toronto resident Omar Hammami credit for his literary audacity – and his extraordinary optimism in the face of peril.
The Story of an American Jihaadi Part One was released on the blogosphere this week. "I might as well set the story straight for history's sake," writes the Menace from Mobile Bay, Alabama, in the new memoir. "Yes… I was born and raised in America …but now I'm in Jihaad."
While the tract is a 127-page rush job rife with unconventional spellings – not surprising given it was uploaded on to the Internet by a writer on the run somewhere in Somalia – don't hold out for Part Two. Militants who are "in jihaad" these days don't generally have long careers.
In fact, rumours abound that the author may have already been slain by his fellow terrorists, or is about to be, given certain doctrinal differences. But Islamist militants may not be the only ones with daggers out. U.S. military drone planes in Somalia "are racist," Mr. Hammami writes at one point. "They only shoot at white people!"
Though not a household name, the author has certain notoriety in national security circles. He is, essentially, the public face of one of the great intelligence quandaries of our time.
Security services in the West are increasingly concerned about "homegrown" extremists who join al-Qaeda-affiliated movements abroad. Though their credentials as guerrilla fighters abroad are inevitably suspect, their passports could allow these jihadists to sneak back home and continue on their self-styled holy wars, completely undetected.
From 2007, Mr. Hammami has made a name for himself as "Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki," a terrorist taunting his homeland with YouTube videos, audio messages and even rap lyrics about how he has left America to join al-Shabab militants in Somalia. His membership has been a public-relations coup for the terrorist group, which is also feared to have enticed at least a couple of dozen young Canadians, too.
Al-Shabab has killed thousands of Somalis and urged its sympathizers to conduct suicide bombings in Canada, America and Europe. In an attempt to justify this bleak worldview, Mr. Hammimi tells a self-aggrandizing tale. He points out that, like Apple Corp. founder Steve Jobs, he is the product of a Syrian father and American mother. A religious awakening in his teenage years, he says, led him to "to rock a thawb [robe]and turban in the Bible Belt post-9/11." In the mid-2000s he left Alabama to read "blacklisted" Islamic books in Toronto. From there he moved to Egypt where a fellow fundamentalist from America smoothed his path to the "land of jihaad" – Somalia.
Many of Mr. Hammami's observations are juvenile and banal. Still, his is a rare perspective, and his reflections yield insights as to why young men like him forsake their homelands to join violent, extremist causes.
Here then, are some selected excerpts, which appear as Mr. Hammami wrote them, starting with why he left the United States: "I had become so averse to America that I wanted to leave... the woman I wanted to marry was living in Canada. So I worked in a hip-hop clothing store and I sold some hip-hop shoes at the flea market to raise enough money to pay off all of my bills and I jetted out. I took my car and a few hundred dollars and drove from Mobile, Alabama to Toronto, Canada with a few stops along the way...".
North of the border, Mr. Hammami discovers the ubiquity of Tim Hortons restaurants and the way Canadians "speak from their nose." Toronto, he writes, taught him a lot about multiculturalism after he found work as a milkman during a "blazing winter" in the city.
"When I reached Canada I started working the next day. I had a few Somali connections and I got a job delivering milk to Somalis. It was one of the worst but most hilarious jobs of my life. I would wake up at around 3 o'clock in the morning in the blazing winter of Toronto, Canada. I couldn't even feel my body parts nicely in the house which would make me hate the idea of even looking outside. I didn't have proper clothes for the weather but I would throw on a bunch of layers and my sneakers and go out into the ice. I used to drive a van with no heater to the place of the milk. There I had to lift those heavy crates on to the van in that cold..."
But Toronto, however frigid, was a better place to learn about Islam than Mobile, Alabama, ever was. There were even a few "black-listed" books lying around this "temporary haven."
"I started seeing different Muslims in Toronto and checking out different Masaajid. That is where I began reading the black-listed books and trying to see past the names and labels that I used to fixate on so much when meeting new Muslims. The fact that I was now living in a multicultural metropolis really helped my attempt of trying new things and melting down the artificial barriers. I was happy for quite a while until I realized that even this is not enough. Obviously it was never a pure Islamic society by any stretch of the imagination, but it served as a temporary haven for me while I digested new information and formed new plans for my future."
He was welcomed into Toronto's Somali community after marrying a young woman from it. But he found it had "Western defects."
"The Somalis were really the best community I had come across – whether it was the ones in Atlanta or Toronto – and I found serenity in those Masaajid the most. But the Somali community was also not without its Western defects. I remember feeling myself in agony upon seeing young Somalis imitating the Kuffar in almost everything. One day I even lashed out at my boss for putting up advertisements for a Somali rap concert ..."
Before long, Mr. Hammami figured that he and his family should continue their adventures in Africa. He went to Alexandria, Egypt first and he met a fellow American (since arrested) who smoothed his entry to "the land of Jihaad."
"I had finally made it to the land of the Muslims. ... My goal was to find a good place for my family, to try to provide them a cheap house of their own, and then go to a land of Jihaad. [...]It was under such circumstances that I met one of my best friends and closest brothers: Abu Muxammad al-Amriiki, Daniel Maldanado (may Allaah free him from the oppression of the Americans). I was surfing the net one day and I found someone talking about the English institutes in Egypt who sounded like an American. I read what he had said and I noticed that he was talking about Alexandria. I managed to get his email address and ask him how it could be possible that another American is living in Alexandria. [...]It was around this time that I remember telling my wife that there is some fighting going on in Somalia. That wasn't anything new except for the fact that the ones fighting were 'Islamists.' I thought that was a nice little news item for the day, but that was all."
When Mr. Hammami's Canadian wife gave birth to a "very cute, fat, white baby girl" he decided to go to Somalia with "Abu Muxammad" to become an jihadi warrior. He details his exploits at some lengths, and ends the book with shout-outs to "martyrs" from Britain and America who also joined the cause.
"Minnesota represented! And they came from the belly of the beast, where freedom of speech in a nonstarter, while the British have been yelling about Jihaad in Hyde's Park for decades. Those Minnesota brothers have almost all left their mark on the Jihaad and most have them have received martyrdom; while the rest are still waiting [...]The Somalis that came from the West have been an integral part in bridging the cultural gap ... Many of them were manly guys who come from a tough background, but all of them were zealous about Jihaad from an early stage in their road towards becoming a practising Muslim."