An American citizen who joined the Somali militant group al-Shabab said he no longer is a member of that group or al-Qaida, although he still considers himself a terrorist.
Omar Hammami said in an interview with VOA's Somali Service that he has broken ties with al-Shabab leader Moktar Abu Zubayr, who he says is now trying to kill him.
A senior State Department official, reacting to the news, noted that Hammami has been indicted by a federal grand jury. The official also said the U.S. government remains interested in any information that would lead to his arrest.
In the telephone interview recorded Tuesday, Hammami said he is hiding in a forested area of Somalia’s Bay and Bakool regions. He said al-Shabab fighters arrested both of his wives Tuesday after killing a person who arranged a safe house for them.
The 29-year-old Hammami, who comes from the state of Alabama, is wanted by the U.S. government on charges of providing material support to al-Shabab, which is affiliated with al-Qaida.
Asked whether he would speak with U.S. or Somali officials, Hammami seemed to rule out that possibility. "I'm openly not from Shabab, I'm openly not from al-Qaida, but I'm definitely a terrorist, so they're just going to end up changing my sentence from being affiliated with al-Qaida to being affiliated with terrorism, so it doesn't really matter whether I speak or not," he said.
The 29-year-old Hammami traveled to Somalia in 2006 and joined al-Shabab’s military wing. The FBI says that in 2007, after Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia, he joined the front lines as a fighter and eventually became a leader in al-Shabab. The U.S. has offered up to $5 million for information leading to his capture.
Hammami was highly critical of Abu Zubayr, saying the al-Shabab leader does not abide the principles of Islam, and has turned al-Shabab into an organization that oppresses Muslims in an effort to win control of Somalia.
Asked whether he'd come back to the United States, he said "that is not an option unless it's in a body bag."