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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.
“To have an American citizen that has risen to this kind of a rank in a terrorist organization — we have not seen that before,” a senior American law-enforcement official said earlier this month.
Later he vows, “We’re going to kill all of them.” In the three years since Hammami made his way to Somalia, his ascent into the Shabab’s leadership has put him in a class of his own, according to United States law-enforcement and intelligence officials.
While other American terror suspects have drawn greater publicity, Hammami exercises a more powerful role, commanding guerrilla forces in the field, organizing attacks and plotting strategy with Qaeda operatives, the officials said.
“You knew he was going to be a leader.” A decade later, Hammami has fulfilled that promise in the most unimaginable way.
Some 8,500 miles from Alabama, on the eastern edge of Africa, he has become a key figure in one of the world’s most ruthless Islamist insurgencies.
He gazes directly into the camera: all dreamy brown eyes, smouldering good looks and chiseled features. It's certainly a striking image, but is Omar Borkan Al Gala, poet, actor and internet sensation, one of the men who was too sexy for Saudi Arabia?
The American suspects come from different backgrounds and socioeconomic strata, but they share much in common with Europe’s militants: they tend to be highly motivated, even gifted people who were reared in the West with one foot in the Muslim world.He was a star in the gifted-student program, with visions of becoming a surgeon. Despite the name he acquired from his father, an immigrant from Syria, Hammami was every bit as Alabaman as his mother, a warm, plain-spoken woman who sprinkles her conversation with blandishments like “sugar” and “darlin’.” Brought up a Southern Baptist, Omar went to Bible camp as a boy and sang “Away in a Manger” on Christmas Eve.As a teenager, his passions veered between Shakespeare and Kurt Cobain, soccer and Nintendo.Behind them, on a float bearing leaders of the student government, a giddy mop-haired kid tossed candy to the crowd.Omar Hammami had every right to flash his magnetic smile.
Others may see them as rigid or zealous, but they envision themselves as deeply principled, possessing what Robert Pape, a professor at the University of Chicago, calls “an altruism gone wildly wrong.” While their religious piety varies, they are most often bonded by a politically driven anger that has deepened as America’s war against terrorism endures its ninth year.