Introducing AMERICAN JIHADI
Hi I'm Danielle Robea. I want to let you know about a new podcast. Series called American Jihadi over eight episodes journalists Kristof puzzle tells the story of the complicated relationship he developed with American born Jihadi Omar Hamami the FBI. Put a mommy on. Its most wanted terrorist list. Because of the years he spent fighting for Al Shabaab an Islamic militant group in Somalia Amami ended up on the run hiding out from the very group. He helped put on the map then he reached out to Kristof in secret to see if Kristof could help save his life. American Jihadi follows Christopher attempts to understand how. And why a suburban kid from Daphne Alabama. We transform himself into to the face of a terrorist group. It let him down one of the strangest roads of his career as a journalist and pushed him to cross lines he never thought he would cross up next the first I episode of American Jihadi. While you're listening go subscribe to American Jihadi on Apple podcasts. Or wherever you're listening now there's also a link in the episode notes that will take you there. In the fall of two thousand seven. A video was broadcast on the Al Jazeera News Network. A thin man in his early twenty s sits on the ground field somewhere in the east African country of Somalia he's wearing camouflage and there's a hand grenades strapped to his left front pocket help both. He's looking directly into the camera. But his face is wrapped in a green scarf so that only his eyes and a flash of white skin or showing America take into consideration arisen the example of Somalia man is the mouthpiece for new Islamic militant group in Somalia called Al Shabaab which means the youth in Arabic after fifteen years years of chaos and oppressive rule by the American backed warlords. Your brothers stood up in order to establish peace and justice in this land. The camera cuts to dozens of African fighters. AK Forty Sevens and grenade launchers. Video doesn't make clear is why they're spokesman appears there's to be a white American. The story quickly circulated online and even though the American had been careful not to reveal his identity and the small southern town of Daphne Alabama they knew exactly who he was. I came home from work one day in Verney wide as she'd what is always like mom you need and watch this the minute we heard the boys when you did it was now. It all makes sense. He's over there fight. He's not coming back and we saw allow my God. What is going on when it's going on the man? In the video was Omar Hamami. He would become become one of the. FBI's most wanted terrorists. I would spend years chasing his story. Attract his life from Alabama where he attended a southern Baptist Church and his high school class president to the frontlines of guerrilla war in Africa. And then I heard from Omar himself over time the relationship that developed between us awesome would blur the lines between journalism and friendship and wreck the tidy story. I told myself about the boundary between good and evil. I'm Christoph Puzzle. This is American. Jihadi episode sued one the Matrix I. I became aware of Omar Hamami in two thousand nine when he showed up in a propaganda video. That was put out by Al Shabaab in this video. There's no scarf hiding his face. He looks like a Skinny Che Guevara. His Brown hair is long and much of his face is covered by a young man's first beard thirty points. Omar speaks directly to the cameras. He's recruiting foreigners like himself to come join Al Shabaab encourage more of your children and more of your your neighbors. Anyone around to send people like him to this would be asset leader. He appears here's to lead Al Shabaab fighters in setting an ambush in to come camping. Omar White and his accent is so clearly American and yet there. He is sitting in Somalia with an AK47 surrounded by east African fighters hanging on his every word that the numbers they're close two thousand and among try to blow up his me vehicles as we can and kill as many of the can take care of his face cracks into a smile now as if he feels self conscious saying these things on camera picture cuts away to a shot of the Bush on the enemy approaches. I can in the. US Omar story was quickly picked up by Media Omar Hamami the US citizen born and bred in the American south south who is now a leader of a terrorist organization affiliated with Al Qaeda fighting in Somalia. Catherine what did you learn about this guy. Twenty five years old American on Jihadist circles as Abu Key or the American and I found his story fascinating. HOMER had grown up in a small town in Alabama. I'm going to a southern Baptist Church until midway through high school. His life had been almost a cliche of American normalcy. He plays Soccer Little League Baseball. Even took the prettiest. Yes girl in school to homecoming. And then somehow he'd found his way to Somalia where he joined up with Al Shabaab Group designated a terrorist organization by the State Department. He believes that the reward of Dada at actually reported from Somalia in two thousand six just a few months before Omar had arrived there at the time I was a TV correspondent for a program called Vanguard on current TV. We were sort of vice news before vice news existed. We try to report on stories that we thought the rest of the media was missing. We interviewed cartel hitmen. Russian skinheads folks like that. I wanted to do a story about Omar who by the time video started attracting attention. The situation in Somalia Malia had gotten worse than six and a half thousand people have been killed in fighting in Somalia in the last twelve months. Al Shabaab was a running gun battle with Ethiopian and African Union troops American drones fired missiles at suspected terrorists and suicide bombers were beginning to target cities who is just too chaotic and dangerous for me to go back. Security officials implicate al-shabaab in the assassination of aid workers and in a string of bomb attacks in Mogadishu still. I knew I wanted to figure out a way to tell Omar story a young American who had traded in his middle class life for life of struggle and one of the most dangerous parts of the world a guy with something to prove chasing his ideals. There was enough of me in there to make really want understand the choices he'd made all the way to reach. Omar by new family was still living in Alabama. So I got on a plane I landed mobile drove a half hour. East Daphne a small suburb. On Mobile Bay calls itself the Jubilee City. The streets are lined with massive. Live oaks the kind film directors put movies so that you'll think old south I found Omar's parents place at the end of a call to sack. The curtains were drawn tight but on the mailbox it said in large white letters schiff economy and I got a quick glimpse of Omar's father Shafique when he looked at me through the window of his front door. He had glasses and dark salt and pepper beard. I said that I was a reporter. He told me to go away. He couldn't talk to me before flying down. I'd also reached out to our sister Dean on facebook back on my rental. Oh car I check my phone to see if she'd written back nothing on the highway fast and Applebee's in K. Mart. I pulled pulled into the hooters. Because I figured maybe someone there went to high school with Omar. The bartender told me that while he didn't know Omar well in high school. He did just run into his best friend Bernie at Walmart. The bartender even knew the street he lived on Bernie Street. There were names on all the mailboxes except for one. I asked him kids playing street street hockey if they knew who lived in that house. You mean the Jews one of the mast- Jews. Yeah the ones with the Star Wars outfits. Do you mean Muslims. Yeah them kid shrug. Whatever Bernie wasn't home? Later that night we managed to connect and he invited me over to dinner with his family. Lose his mother his wife and two kids dinner Become thank you. Servers Bernie was tall and slender with blonde hair and a beard. He and his family are practicing. Muslims Omar converted to Islam during his sophomore year and soon after inspired Bernie to convert as. Well it's kind of hard for you to like envision. The guy's a terrorist. You know if you like lived with the guy and mule really good friends with the guy for so many years you just when you see them. You don't see like the terrier show I go. Hey this my friend that I haven't seen it a couple years Bernie's mother Sharon had converted to Islam too. Yeah I think when I met her her head was covered with black job added with tiny flowers for Sharon. Omar wasn't a terrorist. He was the person who started her on the path to putting her life back together. She told me that before she became Muslim. She hadn't been the greatest mother to Barney. He saw me drove a lot which is very repenting full. You know had a lot of shame felt that he didn't have a lot of guidance. He didn't have a lot of supervision. And you needed a moment. I wasn't here was Mar Sharon hadn't even harder time Bernie understanding how the Marshon Daphne became one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists. He's the boy who helped me learn to coffee. And that's just can't wrap my head around thinking that he would be a part of hurting innocent the people I just I just can't I can't fathom that Bernie and I watched the video. The ambush as they entered into ambush opening up with small arms fire black. He's the guy that everybody knows is in Ricky I noticed a Omar Jimenez Gateway. You know Kinda like grew up with in high school is a kind of a normal dude kind of like a job. You'll really charismatic. Cool guy main objective right and so the fact that we got to Martyrs is nothing more than if you music video and don't read the subtitles thousand. Just kind of like watching a little bit just like seems like your old friend just the different period close on over the course of the next four months I spent a lot of time with Bernie. We went to their high school and the Walmart where they both worked. We even flew to Toronto to see where he and Omar had lived for about a year before moving down to Egypt. Egypt is where they separated Bernie coming back to the US Omar disappearing eventually turning up in Malaya the long piece about Omar made for current TV. I try to paint a more complicated picture of him than just the American born terrorist but I was never totally satisfied. I was able to follow Omar's path from Alabama to candidate to Egypt and then to Somalia and Al Shabaab. I couldn't really get my head around though was why hit chosen the path to answer that question or any of the others. I still had. I would've needed to get to Omar somehow but not even. US intelligence seemed to be able to find them It would take another two years to get my answer as it turned out. I had it backwards. I didn't need to find Omar. It was Omar needed to find me a that was just a preview of American. She haughty to hear the rest. I subscribe to American Jihadi on Apple podcasts. Or wherever you get your podcasts.