On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars


What turned a nice Alabama-born Southern Baptist boy into a wild-eyed Somali terrorist?

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So, what could possibly turn a nice Southern Baptist boy into a jihadi terrorist? That’s what the stunned residents of Daphne, Alabama, are asking themselves. 

Omar Hammami at age 15

On May 12, the local high school’s former sophomore class president, Omar Hammami,  proclaimed in an African summit meeting of Islamist extremists outside of Mogadishu, Somalia, that the death of Osama Bin Laden will not weaken the group’s plans against the United States, but rather it has strengthened the terrorists’ resolve.

In Somalia

“Hammami warned that al-Qaida’s war against the United States and its allies will continue and will not end until there is an Islamic victory,” reports Jim Kouri.

Hammami, who has taken to calling himself “Abu Mansur Al Ameriki,” is a leader of the al-Qaida splinter group al-Shabaab. The summit meeting was themed “We are all Osama” and held in Afgoye, a small town on the outskirts of the Somali capital.

After Hammami’s proclamation on the Arab TV channel al-Jazeera, Yemen’s rebel al-Qaida leader Nasir al-Wahishi echoed Hammami’s sentiments. In a statement posted on an Islamic web site, al-Wahishi wrote that “the torch of jihad is brighter after bin Laden’s death at the hands of infidels.”

Omar as a 13-year-old Southern Baptist summer camper

So, what happened to this teenager who regularly attended Baptist summer camp and was one of the most popular kids at his high school?

“On a warm, cloudy day in the fall of 1999, the town of Daphne, Alabama, stirred to life,” wrote Andrea Elliott in the New York Times in 2010. “The high-school band came pounding down Main Street, past the post office and the library and Christ the King Church.

“On a float bearing leaders of the student government, a giddy mop-haired kid tossed candy to the crowd. Omar Hammami had every right to flash his magnetic smile. He had just been elected president of his sophomore class. He was dating a luminous blonde, one of the most sought-after girls in school.

“For a 15-year-old, he had remarkable charisma. Hammami was every bit as Alabaman as his mother, a warm, plain-spoken woman who sprinkles her conversation with blandishments like ‘sugar’ and ‘darlin’.”

After joining the jihadis

Now 25 years old, Hammami grew up in the Mobile suburb. His mother teaches elementary school. She is a U.S. native still active in the church where she took Omar as he grew up. His father was a Syrian-born Muslim and a civil engineer at the Department of Transportation.

On Fridays, Omar occasionally went to the mosque with his father. On Sundays, Omar often attended church with his mother and sister. Debra told the kids to keep their church-going a secret from their father. The Hammami home remained culturally Muslim. Inscriptions from the Koran decorated the walls and pork was forbidden.

In school, Hammami was an outgoing boy who in an assignment described the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City as “stupid.” He wrote, “I wish violence would vanish clear from the Earth.”

But at age 15, he visited Syria and told friends how his male cousins shared a “cohesiveness of brotherhood.” Back in Alabama, he gave up Friday night football games to attend the mosque more regularly with his dad. He began offering Muslim prayers in the school library.

In 2000, during his junior year, the subject in class turned to Osama bin Laden, who had claimed responsibility for U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

“One boy suggested that Bin Laden should be shot dead,” reports Elliott.

“What if I said that about Billy Graham?” Hammami demanded.

“Billy Graham is a peaceable preacher,” the boy said. “Osama bin Laden is a terrorist.”

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” Hammami replied.

Hammami today

In class, Hammami swore at a teacher because she was Jewish and tried to choke a student who interrupted him as he was reciting the Koran. His high grades allowed him to skip his senior year and enroll at the University of South Alabama. There he became president of the Muslim Student Association. When the U.S. was attacked on September 11, 2001, local reporters called him for comment. He told them, “It’s difficult for me to believe a Muslim did this.”

He dropped out of college and set out to master Arabic. In 2005, he joined a Muslim community in Toronto, Ontario, and married a friend’s 19-year-old sister-in-law. 

“Through an Internet web site and bulletin board, Hammami met a fellow American jihadist, Daniel Maldonado, who had also left the U.S.,” writes Kouri. “Eventually the two men secretly made plans to become jihadis.”

In 2005, Hammami and his wife moved to Egypt. There, she gave birth to a daughter. Then, abruptly, “Without telling his family, Hammami traveled to Somalia where he joined al-Shabaab,” writes Kouri.

Speaking this week on al-Jazeera

In October 2007, he appeared on al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language news network. A scarf concealed half his face, as he began, in English, “Oh, Muslims of America, take into consideration the situation in Somalia …” which at the time was occupied by Ethiopian troops.

In 2008, he took credit on al-Jazeera for an ambush on an Ethiopian convoy. An al-Shabab video in 2009 shows Hammami leading fighters and lecturing recruits. And now, he has shown up as a spokesman at the summit.

Back in Alabama, Debra Hammami is at a loss to explain what happened to her boy. She told a reporter that he is “in the wrong hands.”

His father “talks about his son the way a parent talks about a child lost to a cult,” writes Elliot. “Terrorism, he says, ‘goes against everything I taught him.’”



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment WENDELL

    WHO WOULD THINK IT > TAKE ACTOR BRAD PITT, HE WAS A BAPTIST BOY, BUT BACKSLID (IF HE EVER KNEW THE L-RD) AND BECAME MR ANGELINA JOLIE….

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Bishop J. Dennis Moore

    I am Bishop J.Dennis Moore and i have ben preaching the Gospel now for
    all most 42 years i am not Baptist or will i ever be i am Pentecostal.
    Concering this yound boy im not going to call him a man but he has ben Brain washed and is now demon possessed. as far as what happen to osama bin laden As far as im concerned The LORD GOD HIM SELF sent the Navy Seals in to that compound and they Slayed islam’s great one Just like David slayed Goliath and i would like to know what he thinks his false god allah is going to do for him now. What islam needs to learn is that GOD has made America stronger then ever.
    Bishop &. D.R. J. Dennis Moore. Glory to GOD.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Adewunmi, Adeleke

    I guess he was not part of the religious upbringing given to him by his mother because of his father’s religious inclination. But for him to have one view and share another a few years later gives one cause for concern. In any attack there is no telling who is going to get hurt. I guess the death of Osama Bin Laden has made some people feel they can feel the vacuum by talking tough.
    I hope and pray that he would see the light and change his mind. The US too needs to explain the circumstances that led to Osama Bin Laden’s death and his funny burial in the sea. Otherwise you have a bigger problem in your hands since the guy seems to know everywhere in the US and can easily plot a deadlier attack than Bin Laden’s in 2001. An informed people tend to take a better decision than those that are left in the dark.
    I think Osama Bin Laden is more dangerous to the peace of the world now that he is dead than ever before. You are hoarding information which may prove dangerous to everyone. Obama, show the tapes of Bin Laden’s death and burial to the world, we need to know, it might stem the uneasiness over his death

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/on_the_front_lines_of_the_culture_wars/2011/05/what-turned-a-nice-alabama-born-southern-baptist-boy-into-a-wild-eyed-somali-terrorist.html#post David

    This is interestion – USA BORN BOY turns Muslim Terrorist-It looks very ‘gung ho’ to those who know him.

    However if you look deeper into this person you see a ‘Pattern of Dissaster’ and a refusal to come to terms with himself.- poor esteem and poor choice of decision making.
    Why is this so a) cannot acknowledge that his father is a muslim and there fore out to prove that his Father and mother is correct in their muslim up bringing – Please note although the mothers does everything Christian it is because the Islamic faith or the koran teaches the concept of hidding your true faith within yourselves in the strong hold of your enemies or if in an economic situation just be like the enemies and live.
    So in this case this omar is actually all the time brought up as a muslim and nothing short.

    All muslims are not what they seem to be – As and when there is enough weith around – Many troubles will come from them – as in cannot be under USA laws but under their own islamic so there you see ‘a deep division already with their religion.
    Cannot go to your school and swear loyalty to USA – as it is idolatry and many more – Must pray five per day – it means that your work pil;es up as you have to do their share of the work.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Anita Skinner

    Sadly, this is known, pure and simple, as “brainwashing”. That is why these radical groups prey on our young men and women at their most impressionable ages.

    Omar’s story is just one of many which is indicative of the tremendous power that evil can have over good if we do not fight it. The ideology known as Radical Islam is the greatest threat to the modern world we have ever, or will ever, face and we all need to be constantly vigilant to guard against it’s making inroads into our culture, especially in regard to our young people.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment g

    Well, it is little surprise that a very intelligent kid ,being introduced into a religion that ‘fulfills’ deep needs like purpose and a desperate human cause is going to go that direction. The fact that he headed towards the ‘extreme’ elements of that religion and culture seems to be no accident. I imagine there was more influence from his dad and his dad’s ‘brotherhood’ than old dad is willing to admit.

    His other apparent choice, Southern Baptist/Americana ideals, God and Apple pie, and no dancing and Football and cheerleaders and some ‘remote’ thought of Jesus and heaven and rapture and 666 etc is really wouldn’t be very appealing. I mean: On one side..” Ideals, change the world vs. Southern Baptist/Americana, football, off-roading, gay-bashing, Sunday church and after church buffets. No contest.

    Look around, the church is failing.Shouldn’t be that way. but it is.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Alice S. Maxwell

    The premise of your story is ridiculous but it mirors the problems facing the West. Islam announces there are no other religions and those that call attention to their existence will be obliterated! It is in black and white in the Koran and that is the last word! The southern belle who married a Muslim knew it too for that is why she had her children keep their church attendance secret even from their father!

    When are you going to accept fact? This whole movement re diversity increasing understanding has no play in the Islamic world. Of course young men will leave the Christian fold and go with Islamic heritage. It satisfied their growing testesterone! Any mention of love to such is an invitation to ridicule for such is only what a woman wants! That is the power factor theologians forget and by the way, is the main cultural change in our society now thanks to the proliferation of Rap et al, all based on constant repetition, the main teaching method of the Madrass!

    You will consign my comments to your wastepaper basket but you are responsible for the defeat that is coming at us like a runaway freight train. It is no wonder that the former Pope, now being beatified by the dying Catholic Church, went to Damascus and met with the Grand Mufti there and then walked with him to the Grand Mosque and went down on his knees before Allah! You are all fools and so are all of us Christians. Armegeddon is upon you and the Anti Christ is in command.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Courtney

    Shelly,
    The Lord has given us the tools for living…in His word…He said, not us, He said, “DO NOT be unequally yolked with unbelievers.” There is nothing new under the sun…and HE said that too. So if it was Word back then it’s Word now for EVERYDAY living. Stop trying to out think God and do what he says and life will flow better and go better. I bet if she had married a born again believer we would not be having this conversation.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Helen

    I know God loves him as a precious child. The Lord will wait for his return. I will pray for him every day. Meanwhile, his life is beyond our criticism and our judging. Our only tool for helping him is prayer. I hope that is the decision of everyone who knows him–in his former school–in his town–in his mother’s and father’s families. Remember that young man named Saul?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Amin

    Who made who? Did Jesus tell Almighty God, The Creator to be or did Almighty God, The Creator tell Jesus to be? Did Jesus not tell us that “one will come after me to speak not of himself, but everything he hears from his LORD” and that “he shall bring you into remembrance of all things” – the paraclete? What does the Greek word ‘paracletos’ mean – ‘ holy ghost’ or ‘ordained messenger’? Don’t think I’m trying to start a fight. All I’m asking is for you all to do a little critical thinking. Lame-stream media fairy takes aside, the truth about embracing Islam is that you don’t move further away from Jesus as you become closer to Mohammad. All that happens is that you become more Christlike! I’m serious! Sure, there’s always gonna be an isolated incident or two, such as with this young fellow. But if you’re gonna have anything truly relevant to say about Islam, you have to read and get to know people. You probably see a Muslim doctor. Isn’t he the nicest guy? Just look around a bit with an open mind. Not exploitably open; just open enough to put 2 and 2 together, lest you keep jumping to conclusions. And you gotta admit, it’s a common problem in today’s church. Now I love my Christian family to pieces. But not nearly as much as I love our Merciful Creator.

    “When Allah decreeth a thing, he only says onto it “BE” and it is”
    “Hear O Israel! Your God and MY GOD are but ONE!”
    Kulu-Allahu wahid. Allahu summad. Lemmialit wa lemiulad. Wa lemiakun lehu kufuan ahad.

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