NAIROBI — The U.S. State Department has offered $5 million rewards for information about two American citizens who have joined ranks with the Somali militant group al-Shabab. One of the militants is the media savvy al-Amriki, known for his recruitment videos, jihadi rap songs and Twitter battles with al-Shabab’s leadership.
In an undated video by Amriki, the long-haired young American man who would become the western face of al-Shabab leads what he says is an ambush on Ethiopian soldiers.
Born Omar Hammami, he is now better known by the moniker Abu Mansour al-Amriki - “the American.”
Originally from the southern U.S. state of Alabama, he moved to Somalia in 2006 and received training from the al-Qaida linked militants.
In the years since, he has become one of the group’s leading propagandist, appearing speaking English and Arabic in recruitment videos. At some point along the way, he recorded a jihadi rap song.
Now, the U.S. State Department is offering $5 million for information that can lead to his arrest, and that of another American citizen in Somalia, Jehad Mostafa, a former resident of California.
In a telephone conference Thursday, U.S. Diplomatic Security official Kirk Rice said the rewards program is part of the U.S. strategy targeting al-Shabab’s Somali and foreign commanders.
“So we have done this before, we continue to try and get information on al-Shabab key leaders," said Rice."We try to get information on al-Shabab key recruiters and leaders of foreign fighter cadres, and we will continue to look at and try to get information on al-Shabab into the future.”
In recent months, al-Amriki had a very public falling out with the leadership of al-Shabab which he narrated on his Twitter feed and in his videos.
He expressed fear for his life, as the rift opened up between his wing of foreign fighters and that of al-Shabab chief Ahmed Godane.
The State Department said al-Amriki is still believed to be in Somalia. But as the group is torn apart internally, and under pressure from African Union forces on the ground, he may be seeking refuge somewhere else, according to Abdiwelli Sheikh Abdisamad, an analyst with Southlink consultants in Nairobi.
“I don’t think they are going to live there for long, to be honest with you, he will never live there for long," said Abdisamad. "He has to go outside of the country. He is being forced. Al-Shabab now is almost over.”
Al-Shabab had been on the backfoot after being driven out of the major cities across Somalia, starting with Mogadishu in 2011.
But the group earlier this week retook control of the town of Hudur in central Somalia, after Ethiopian troops guarding the town unexpectedly withdrew.
Al-Shabab also has been blamed for a string of suicide bombings in the capital in recent months.