NAIROBI, Kenya -- A young man from Alabama who traveled to Somalia and became an infamous Islamist militant, commanding guerrilla forces and earning a $5 million American bounty on his head, was believed to have been killed by his former extremist allies on Thursday, according to news reports and Islamist Web sites.
The jihadist, Omar Hammami, known for his rap-infused propaganda videos for the Shabab, a brutal Islamist group in Somalia, was reported killed in an ambush on Thursday morning. If true, his death would bring to a close one of the more unusual chapters in more than two decades of fighting in the Horn of Africa.
But Mr. Hammami, also known by the nom de guerre Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, "the American," has been declared dead before, only to resurface alive.
There is little question that Mr. Hammami has been on the run from his former comrades. His recent troubles brought to the surface rifts within militant circles in Somalia, particularly between foreign fighters and Somalis. In a Twitter message in April, Mr. Hammami said the group's leader had "gone mad" and was "starting a civil war."
The Shabab itself has suffered setbacks in recent years as African Union forces and the Somali military have pushed the group out of Mogadishu, the southern port of Kismayu and other strategic areas. A group of some 160 Somali scholars on Thursday issued a fatwa against the Shabab, condemning its use of violence.
But the group remains a potent force. The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea issued a report in July calling the Shabab "the principal threat to peace and security in Somalia," with roughly 5,000 fighters still at its disposal, as well as stockpiles of weapons and ammunition all over the country.
On Thursday, the Shabab claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in Kismayu on the convoy of the self-appointed leader of the semiautonomous state of Jubaland, Ahmed Madobe. He survived the attack. Last month, Mr. Madobe reached an agreement to ally Jubaland with the national government in Mogadishu, while leaving him in charge for a two-year transitional period.
On a new Twitter account, used after the group's old account was suspended last week, the Shabab said it had led "a martyrdom operation against the apostate militia leader Ahmad Madobe & his officials."
The Associated Press reported that a member of the Shabab who gave his name as Sheik Abu Mohammed said his associates had carried out the ambush that killed Mr. Hammami.
J. M. Berger, the editor of the Web site Intelwire.com and author of the book "Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam," said that it appeared this time that Mr. Hammami had indeed been killed. Mr. Berger, who has been monitoring hundreds of Shabab-related social-media accounts for over a year, cited a death notice on a Jihadi Web site that had supported the American militant and posted interviews with him in the past.
"There are multiple sources, witnesses and Shabab members on social media who were close to Hammami, all saying the same thing," Mr. Berger said.
The son of a Southern Baptist mother and a Syrian Muslim father, Mr. Hammami was raised in Daphne, Ala., where he was a gifted student and high school class president. He later embraced the ultraconservative form of Islam known as Salafism before ultimately moving to Somalia in 2006 to fight for the Shabab.
A resident of al Baate village in southern Somalia, Hussein Nur, told Reuters that "well-armed fighters" attacked Mr. Hammami and his companions Thursday morning. "After a brief fight al-Amriki and his two colleagues were killed," Mr. Nur said. "Several of their guards escaped."
Reached by telephone, the American militant's father, Shafik Hammami, said: "I'm in a state of unbelief right now. It's very difficult because they don't have any confirmation so, as usual, it's up and down all the way."
Mr. Hammami was added to the most-wanted list of terrorism suspects last year, accused of "providing material support to terrorists" and "conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization." It said he "should be considered armed and dangerous."
The charismatic American fighter was a propaganda coup for the Somali militants. He worked on recruitment and handled financial affairs for the group. But Mr. Hammami was more than just a YouTube sensation and back-office militant. He is believed to have personally commanded forces in the field and organized guerrilla attacks.
He did not consider his native land off limits. "It's quite obvious that I believe America is a target," he wrote in an e-mail message to The New York Times in 2010.
Growing up in Daphne, a city of 23,000 on Mobile Bay, Mr. Hammami loved Kurt Cobain and Nintendo and dabbled in drugs. But he also attended Bible camp. His decision to join a violent group responsible for beheadings and forced amputations was especially bewildering to family and friends.
Andrea Elliott contributed reporting from New York, and Mohammed Ibrahim from Mogadishu, Somalia.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.