April 4, 2013 | Quote

‘There’s No Turning Back’: My Interview With a Hunted American Jihadist

The screams have started. On its official, English-language Twitter account, Shebab typically subtweets shots at Hammami (“There is no reason whatsoever for an apostate, once he leaves the fold of Islam, to enjoy the privileges and protection of Islam“) but its minions attack him directly through other formats. Last month, it distributed a slick, 17-page online PDF called “Turning Away from the Truth Won’t Make It Disappear: Demystifying the Abu Mansur Saga.” It portrays Hammami as a preening, egotistical, “brittle mental construct of his own making,” incompetent militarily and out for his personal glory. Offline, the threats are more serious: in January, Hammami claimed that Shebab gave him 14 days to lay down his weapons or die.

Hammami’s campaign against al-Shebab comes at a delicate time for the group. Once on the march, al-Shebab made a drastic miscalculation in 2011 when it expelled international aid workers attempting to mitigate the effects of a regional drought. The result was a famine in its southern stronghold that alienated Somalis who had once acquiesced to its agenda. Last year it lost the important port city of Kismayo. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a longtime Somalia analyst with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, now describes al-Shebab as “a would-be insurgent force.” The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, told Congress last month that the group will merely “remain focused on local and regional challenges.” Add to that a tight market for foreign fighters — many of whom are swarming to Syria — and the last thing Shebab can afford is a direct attack on its legitimacy by its most famous former adherent.

There are signs that Shebab’s counterattacks may intensify. Last week, a major extremist Web forum that had previously neglected Hammami hosted an online Q&A with him, allowing jihadis and wannabes to directly question him about his accusations. Simultaneously, Shebab sympathizers in Kenya issued a statement directly threatening Hammami’s life IRL: the group requested “swift and appropriate action against Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki for his persistence in fomenting dissent.”

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