Omar Hammami is an America member of al-Qaeda with the adopted name of Abu Mansour (Mansoor) al-Amriki. The Daphne, Alabama native, with a southern belle mom and Syrian dad, is indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of providing material support for terrorists. Update 8-3-10. There is increased interest int his article today, including visitors from Saudi Arabia. Read a follow-up article which includes Samir Kahn.
Hammami-al-Amriki is believed to be in Somalia. Al-Amriki's father, Shafik Hammami, is a follower of Islam and has had his own dust-ups with the press. His mother Debra, and Shafik can be seen here in a photo with Omar's older sister, Dena. Shafik Hammami came to the US from Damascus, Syria in 1972 to pursue his civil engineering degree at the University of South Alabama. Mrs. Hammami is a school teacher. Daphne, Alabama is on the Mobile Bay.
An article in the New York Times today portrays Hammami as a popular, and cool, all-American boy: president of his sophomore class, dating the most popular blonde in the school, class clown, "gifted student,"..."remarkable charisma," but a FOXNews report from September 2009 when the indictment was handed down, tells another story. If the NYT article is true, Omar Hammami made a drastic turn toward extremist Islam within one year:
Cynthia McMeans, who taught Omar Hammami in an international studies class and a Model United Nations program, said the teenager affected a Middle Eastern accent almost overnight during his junior year at Daphne High School.
As a teenager, Hammami had turned from the Baptist beliefs of his mother to the Muslim religion his father practiced, McMeans said, and in the spring of 2001, he expressed sympathy toward hard-line Islamic regimes.
"He was just starting on that path, when he was in the 11th grade," McMeans said. "It wasn't the religion part of it that was scary, it was supporting Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida and the Taliban and the Sharia law."...
He had a lot of potential and was smart. He could've done anything," McMeans said. "It doesn't surprise me that Omar isn't just a regular terrorist -- he's infamous. It's sad but it's not surprising.The NYT article printed one of Hammami's 7th grade poems:
My reality is a bore, I wish, I want, I need the wall to fall and the monster to let me pass, the leash to snap, the chains to break...I've got a taste of glory, the ticket, but where is my train?Hammami was baptised in his mother's Baptist church. Friends recall him saying that he was a believer, but his third trip to Syria when just before beginning his sophomore year, found him in "profound spiritual struggle." His "girlfriend," Lauren Stevenson, said the "cohesiveness of [Islamic] brotherhood" drew him in.
For a while, Hammami seemed to be two people. He would smoke a cigarette and then feel guilty. He treasured his Friday-night routine -- the football game and the meal at Waffle House -- but started pulling away from his friends to go to the mosque. Soon he was praying at school. "It took a lot to become the 'weirdo guy who prays in the library,' " Hammami later wrote.
Mike Faulk, a journalist, had an intense run-in with Hammami in Ms. McMeans classroom:
Omar Hammami was raised in the Plantation Hills subdivision in Daphne, and McMeans said the teen had a Southern accent when he first started her class.Hammami scored in the 93rd percentile on his A.C.T.'s. He skipped his senior year in high school and enrolled at the University of South Alabama, where he became president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA)
As the lessons progressed, he became more dedicated to Islam, praying daily at the school, McMeans said, and he revealed radical political views.
One day, Hammami attacked another student who teased him for speaking Arabic in class, according to McMeans and the classmate, Mike Faulk.
"His calm face turned sour and before I had even noticed it he was on his feet and running around desks toward me," Faulk wrote in a blog post. "I stayed in my seat just staring at him having no idea what he was about to do. Then he put his hands around my throat, clamped down as tight as he could so that no air was coming in or out and just stared me right in the eyes."
Faulk, who now works as a journalist, told the Press-Register on Saturday that he also noticed signs that Hammami was sympathetic to al-Qaida.
Remember when the 6th Century Bamyan Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban in central Afghanistan? Hammami defended the Taliban in McMeans classroom.
McMeans said Hammami called her shortly after the attacks [9/11/01], concerned about the media attention he received.Sheik Abu Mansour (Mansoor) al-Amriki is known as "The American," and is considered a high-ranking official of al-Shabab.
"You do a big disservice to all the Muslims and all the Arabic people around here if you spout off some kind of crazy jihadist stuff," McMeans recalled telling him. "You should be very careful about what you say."
He is currently in Somalia, training new recruits to al-Shabab - many of them American boys of Somali descent....
He is the star of al-Shabab's most recent recruitment video - a highly sophisticated video that employs hip-hop and looks more like an extreme version of "Survivor" - his face exposed for the first time. (He has appeared on al-Jazeera, but with his face obscured.) The boys are all obscured, but they, too, are clearly American, the Sheikh acknowledging their sudden lack of American comforts: "The only reason we are staying here, away from families, cities, ice, candy bars," he says, "is because we're waiting to meet the enemy."
If you watched the video, you heard an al-Qaeda expert say that some of the young American Somalis shown could possibly return to the US to recruit or attack. Six thousand Somali refugees are coming to the US under a humanitarian refugee program. We are assured that any links to terrorism are being investigated. Such assurances do little to make me feel more comfortable.