An American citizen who broke ties with the Somali militant group al-Shabab is reported to have been killed by the group's fighters.
Former militants said in interviews with VOA's Somali service that Omar Hammami died early Thursday when fighters attacked his hideout near the village of Shongoleh in Somalia's Gedo region.
There was no immediate confirmation from al-Shabab on its Twitter account, which the group often uses to announce attacks.
Hammami has been reported dead before, as his father, Shafik Hammami, told VOA in an interview Thursday from his home in the southern U.S. town of Daphne, Alabama.
"Early this morning, some reporter called me and told me the news," Shafik Hammami said. "I was shocked and of course did not believe it, because we’ve been through this before many times. And I was hoping and praying this would be like the news in the past and would not be true.”
The U.S. government has charged Omar Hammami with providing material support to al-Shabab and offered up to $5 million
for information leading to his capture.
In an telephone interview with VOA's Somali Service nine days ago, Hammami said he had cut ties with al-Shabab and accused the group's leader, Moktar Abu Zubayr, of seeking power at all costs.
"Basically he’s left the principles of our religion, and he turned the Shabab into an organization that oppresses every single Muslim in efforts to make him the next Siad Barre of Somalia," Hammami said. "He wants to be the leader of Somalia regardless of whether he’s ruled by Sharia or any other law."
Hammami said in the interview that al-Shabab was trying to kill him. He also said he still considered himself a terrorist, and rejected the idea of returning home or speaking with U.S. officials.
Listen to the VOA's Somali Service interview with Hammami:
His father said Thursday that he has spoken to U.S. authorities about his son, but added that he has not had contact with Omar since he left for Somalia in 2006. He also said he did not know what caused his son to be radicalized and join al-Shabab, which has ties to al-Qaida.
Two other former militants were killed in Thursday's attack, a Somali militant and a British national of Pakistani origin.
The 29-year-old Hammami, who grew up in Alabama, 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.
He also served as a propagandist for the group, helping to recruit English-speaking youth through writings, rap songs, and televised statements.