Last week’s Omar Hammami autobiography describes his integration into the Islamic Courts Union and reads much like any other account detailing a foreign fighters arrival in a far off land. The insights are limited and sprinkled irregularly throughout the winding document that only describes Omar’s Somalia time up until the formation of al-Shabaab. Personally, my interests centered on if, when and how Hammami encountered true al Qaeda members in Somalia as there has been persistent debate about the role of al Qaeda, if any, in Somalia. Well, in this respect, Hammami does provide a glimpse of when a foreign fighter traveling to Somalia might encounter an al Qaeda member – immediately upon arrival.
Based on the Hammami autobiography found at MyPetJawa, Hammami encountered none other than Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (aka Fazul) upon his arrival at the Mogadishu airport. On page 40-41, Hammami describes his interrogation at the Mogadishu airport after arriving in Somalia in 2006.
I went back to the interrogator after praying and I told him that a very good idea had come to me. I told him that if he sends me back I will be jailed so the best thing for him to do is to just put me in jail here in the land of the Muslims. It was around that time that an SUV pulled up and inside was another interrogator. I was told to enter the SUV and I did so a bit hesitantly (partly because I thought I was being sent back, and partly because I thought I could just be killed at any moment). I saw an AK next to the man and I figured I was being treated as a spy or something. They told me to bring evidence that someone knows me. I told them that I’m coming to visit my wife’s grandmother. At one point they asked for a visa and I told them that the Prophet (S) never asked for visas. People who make Hijrah must only say the testimony of faith and I am a Muslim. They couldn’t debate with that but they didn’t accept it. I finally told them that I came for Jihaad but they did not accept my proof of identity. Finally they told me to call my wife and to have her call her grandmother and prove that I’m here to visit them. The only problem with that was that I hadn’t told anyone that I was coming due to security reasons. She was surprised about the whole thing, but she called her grandmother anyway and they came to the airport to get me. The interrogators accepted this but it was clear that they were still very suspicious of me.
I later realized that the good cop in that scenario was none other than the famed terrorist
Fazul, may Allaah accept him as a martyr.
This is one of the only really interesting parts of Hammami’s initial dribble. First, Hammami encounters one of al Qaeda’s most elusive members within hours of landing in Mogadishu. Second, Fazul meets Hammami but doesn’t appear to really pursue Hammami during a time when al Qaeda was allegedly seeking out Western recruits that could infiltrate back into the U.S. as clean operatives with access to soft targets. Hammami would seem like a ripe opportunity for an AQ operator, but Hammami only mentions encountering Fazul one other time. On page 60, Hammami wonders if Fazul thought him to be a spy.
It would also be during this short stay in Jilib that I would get my last glimpse of two dear brothers. Fazul had appeared along with almost everyone else from the “Shabaab” (to the great dismay of Abu Talxah who had hoped that the Mogadishu branch of “Shabaab” would put up a fight long enough to buy his branch some time in Kismaayu). When he saw me he remembered our encounter in the airport and said through a big smile: “So you’re still here?” I think he half expected me to really be a spy or something. I wouldn’t see him again despite living within meters of him during his last days in Somaalia.
Fazul rapidly descended on Hammami upon his arrival illustrating how smoothly he maintained trusted sources and layers of protection throughout the Horn of Africa. It again makes me wonder how he would ultimately meet his demise by stumbling into a checkpoint. I imagine, Fazul routinely went through checkpoints, airports and government offices without much concern. Why did Fazul get caught this time last year? Maybe someone did betray him, or maybe his luck ran out. For other accounts of Fazul being caught and escaping in Kenya, see this post.