Tag Archives: good journalism

From Sunday School to Jihad

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.

Read the whole thing – and then read this perspective on the story from another guy who grew up in aSoutherb Baptist church – Russell Moore – who provides a handy foil to the gun-toting American redneck type response that would traditionally see this guy as death deserving traitorous scum…

“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.”

A journalistic gem

This, friends, is a fine piece of journalism. A reporter has tracked down and interviewed members of an internatiaonal cabal of diamond thieves to produce a stunning picture of the life of Yugoslavian professional criminals.

It does seem eerily similar to a bunch of Mafia “confessionals” that I read when I wanted to write a Mafia novel. The accounts from the gangsters perhaps suffer a little from their slightly myopic and glorified storytelling. But it’s well worth a read.

The heist alone is worthy of detailed retelling (and will no doubt be the plot line of Oceans 14) – from the story:

Each member of the gang did his or her job perfectly. The attractive young woman seduced the son of the jewelry store owner in Rome to find out where the safe was in the owner’s house. She also discovered that the owner needed builders for repairs. Some of the others secured the renovation contract and cased the house. The get-away driver spent weeks learning every one-way road and stop sign in downtown Rome. And eventually the safe-cracker, the smallest in the group, hid himself inside a false-bottomed chest that the others left on the balcony of a bedroom where the safe was located.

As luck would have it, he didn’t even have to break into the safe, which was hidden behind a painting. The jeweller’s other son left it open for 15 minutes, plenty of time for the diminutive safe-cracker to remove the diamonds and make his escape to the street, where the driver was waiting for him. Back in their rented apartment in Ostia, near the Fiumicino airport outside Rome, the gang met up and celebrated.

The heist was the work of a subgroup of a network of criminals dubbed the Pink Panthers. In the last ten years these guys stole $340 million worth of jewelry in 160 robberies in 26 countries.

Some of the quotes from the criminals are just priceless…

“Any good robbery should take up to 20 seconds.”

Another said that having a nickname and reputation in the media will be the death of the gang:

“When they give you a name you’re in big trouble,” he said, as he finished up a dinner of fresh sea bass at the seaside restaurant and lit a cigarette. “Because every single small policeman is trying to catch you. We lost a lot of guys because of that name. Some of our co-workers got drunk in casinos and were bragging about it, thinking they are something. It’s better to be nothing. The best criminals are those who stay out of prison.”