This is a bizarre story, told through some incredible journalism, of a young American man’s journey from the Sunday School rooms of an Alabama Baptist church to the bowels of a Jihadist operation in Somalia.
Here’s an excerpt. It really is worth reading the whole thing.
Despite the name he acquired from his father, an immigrant from Syria, Hammami was every bit as Alabaman as his mother, a warm, plain-spoken woman who sprinkles her conversation with blandishments like “sugar” and “darlin’.” Brought up a Southern Baptist, Omar went to Bible camp as a boy and sang “Away in a Manger” on Christmas Eve. As a teenager, his passions veered between Shakespeare and Kurt Cobain, soccer and Nintendo. In the thick of his adolescence, he was fearless, raucously funny, rebellious, contrarian. “It felt cool just to be with him,” his best friend at the time, Trey Gunter, said recently. “You knew he was going to be a leader.”
A decade later, Hammami has fulfilled that promise in the most unimaginable way. Some 8,500 miles from Alabama, on the eastern edge of Africa, he has become a key figure in one of the world’s most ruthless Islamist insurgencies. That guerrilla army, known as the Shabab, is fighting to overthrow the fragile American-backed Somali government. The rebels are known for beheading political enemies, chopping off the hands of thieves and stoning women accused of adultery. With help from Al Qaeda, they have managed to turn Somalia into an ever more popular destination for jihadis from around the world.
“You and I heard the gospel because of another jihadist’s trip to Damascus. Saul of Tarsus was filled with indignant zeal and, armed to the teeth, he thought he could terrorize the name of Christ off the face of the earth. What stopped him wasn’t a set of arguments. What stopped him was Christ. And the gospel he found on that sandy road was later propelled, through him, across the world right down to wherever you, and Omar, first heard it.”