Al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked group operating out of Somalia, has reportedly lost one of its most visible fighters, Omar Hammani, an American born and raised in Daphne, Alabama.
Hammani is believed to have been killed on September 12. He moved to Somalia in 2006 to fight for al-Shabaab and was added to the FBI’s most wanted list last year with a $5 million bounty on his head. Hammani was notorious for “his rap-filled propaganda” videos and foreign recruiting abilities. Reports claim that Hammani had a falling out with the leader of al-Shabaab and that a rival faction seeking to focus primarily on internal violence in Somalia may have killed him.
While Somalia and Hammani’s Western targets are better off without him, the bounty on Hammani’s head highlights the formidable security threat al-Shabaab poses to our partners in the region. The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea issued a report in July calling al-Shabaab “the principal threat to peace and security in Somalia.”
Al-Shabaab continues to maintain around 5,000 fighters, robust media outreach, and expansive weapons stockpiles. International forces have successfully disrupted al-Shabaab strongholds in critical locations, including the strategic port of Kismayo. Yet despite these successes, the group continues to operate freely throughout much of Somalia.
Besides the successful attacks against the U.N. headquarters and the Turkish embassy annex at the beginning of the summer, al-Shabaab ambushed the Somalia presidential convoy in an attempt to assassinate President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. The terrorist group again tried to ambush the governor of the autonomous Jubaland region after he and the federal government of Somalia reached a peace agreement. In early September, Somali militants carried out a bombing attack against a restaurant in Mogadishu known for its government and international clientele; 20 people were killed in the attack. Al-Shabaab previously attacked the same restaurant a little less than a year ago.
The increasing number of attacks, and the departure of Doctors without Borders in light of the security situation, helps underscore the U.N. Secretary-General’s statement that Somalia could easily slide back into a failed state, further emphasizing that al-Shabaab “continues to undermine security throughout the country, including in Mogadishu.”
After 20 years of perpetual violence in Somalia, the death of one militant (American or not) will not overwhelmingly change the current situation in the Horn of Africa. As long as al-Shabaab can continue to operate among ordinary Somalis and seek safe haven in the south, al-Shabaab will remain the largest obstacle to peace and stability in Somalia. Despite the international community’s commitment to a “New Deal” for Somalia at a donor conference this week, combating al-Shabaab will take more than foreign assistance pledges.