The Lookout

Wired interviews FBI’s most wanted terrorist over Twitter

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Omar Hammami speaks at a press conference in Mogadishu, May 11, 2011. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

Last month, the State Department announced it would pay up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of Omar Shafik Hammami, an American-born jihadist, amateur rapper and the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist accused of providing "material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization known as al-Shabab."

On Thursday, Wired published an interview it conducted with Hammami—or at least someone it believes is Hammami—on Twitter.

"There is no way to prove that the green egg avatar accompanying @abumamerican is truly Omar Hammami," Spencer Ackerman, who spent a week exchanging direct messages with the account, wrote on Wired.com. "No blue check mark verifies his identity, nor would one even be meaningful for a man in hiding."

Hammami, a native of Alabama, is believed to be hiding in Somalia after splitting with al-Shabab sometime last year.

The 30-year-old "refuses to talk over email, Skype, IM, phone or any format besides Twitter," according to Ackerman. "But counterterrorism analysts are convinced Hammami is the one tweeting."

On Twitter, @abumamerican has spent months openly engaging—even charming—counterterrorism and national security professionals, some of whom are urging him to come back to the United States and surrender. But Hammami assured Wired he believes in "attacking U.S. interests everywhere. No [second] thoughts and no turning back.”

Hammami says he's never personally attacked Americans and "terror" was never his ultimate goal. But "jihad was my obligation and the [New World Order] my enemy.”

"Sentiments like that," Ackerman wrote, "make it likely that Hammami will be the next American killed in a U.S. drone strike."

In September 2011, missiles fired from U.S. drones in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki, and American-born cleric whom President Barack Obama described as the leader of external operations for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. In 2010, after Somalian government sources reported that Hammami had been killed during fighting in Mogadishu, Hammami released a hip-hop song "mocking the claims of his death and taunting the United States to send Predator drones and missiles in order to make him a martyr."

In 2007, a warrant was issued in the U.S. District Court in Alabama for Hammami's arrest on terrorism charges. In 2009, a separate indictment was issued against him for leaving the United States to join the Somalia-based terrorist organization.

According to the FBI, Hammami provided material support to terrorists as early as 2006. He was added to the bureau's Most Wanted Terrorists list in November.

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Hammami's Most Wanted poster (FBI handout)

Hammami split with al-Shabab in early 2012, claiming corruption among its leaders and accusing them of murder and ignoring the global jihad. In March 2012, he released a YouTube video claiming his life "may be in danger."

In January, Hammami claimed the militant group had given him a two-week deadline to surrender or be killed.

He admitted to Wired that he killed a Somali man who al-Shabab had captured but wouldn’t talk under interrogation. “Just told myself he’s worse than a goat,” Hammami wrote. "It was religiously justified."

"Because Hammami is so engaging, and so fluent in the idioms of American culture, it’s easy to overlook his commitment to the jihad," Ackerman concedes. "But factor out his tone from his words, and his message is clear." Kill or be killed.

"Either Hammami kills an innocent person in pursuit of his jihad, or he gets killed himself," Ackerman wrote. "Tempting as it may be to believe that the nice guy from Alabama could really be ready to kill and die, he shrugs over DM: 'fighting is part of the religion.'"

The FBI said on Thursday that while it is aware of the Wired interview, the bureau had no comment and would not be contacting the magazine.

"There would be no reason to contact them," FBI Supervisory Special Agent Doug Astralaga told Yahoo News, adding that he had yet to read the interview.

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