By Tim Lister
It seems that all is not well within Al-Shabaab, the Somali extremist group allied to al Qaeda. A short video was posted online Friday in which its best known propagandist, an American citizen from Alabama, said he believes that others in the group might attempt to assassinate him.
In the video, lasting just over a minute, Abu Mansour al-Amriki sat with a black banner behind him and a rifle leaning against a wall. In English and Arabic he says: "I record this message today because I feel that my life may be endangered by Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahideen due to some differences that occurred between us regarding matters of the sharia and matters of strategy."
He did not go into details and it's not known when the message was recorded.
Al-Amriki, whose real name is Omar Hammami, has become famous in jihadist circles for videos posted to YouTube and other social media encouraging fellow Americans to join Al-Shabaab. He is also seen in videos as a field commander, often shown leading fighters.
Ben Venzke of the terrorist monitoring group IntelCenter described the video as "unprecedented in recent history for a member of a major terrorist group to release a video fearing for his life from the very group he joined."
Venzke said that after the death of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki last year, Hammami has become the highest-profile English-speaking jihadist after al Qaeda propagandist Adam Gadahn.
"He has played a significant role in recruiting new fighters to Al-Shabaab and is believed to have been on track for a growing role and profile, not only in the group but in the broader jihadi community," Venzke said.
Hammami is not himself of Somali origin; his father is Syrian-born and his mother an American. He grew up in Daphne, Alabama, a suburb of Mobile.
After his family moved to Egypt in 2006, Hammami left with a friend to join Al-Shabaab and quickly climbed the ranks as more foreign fighters converged on Somalia, especially young Somali-Americans. Subsequently he was indicted in federal court in the United States on terrorism charges.
In one video posted in 2009, Hammami said: "If you can encourage more of your children, and more of your neighbors, and anyone around you to send people ... to this Jihad, it would be a great asset for us."
Last year, a few days after the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, he was reputed to have told an Al-Shabaab rally, "We are all Osama."
But since then, Al-Shabaab has been in some disarray. In June, a senior figure in the group - Abdul Fazul Mohamed - was killed at a roadblock in the capital, Mogadishu. African Union troops supporting Somalia's transitional government began pushing Al-Shabaab fighters out of several neighborhoods in the capital.
Once dominant in central and southern Somalia, Al-Shabaab has been put on the defensive by internal disagreement as well as attacks from Kenyan and Ethiopian forces.
The Kenyan government ordered a cross-border incursion last October aimed at creating a security buffer in southern Somalia, after attacks on tourist destinations in northern Kenya that it blamed on Al-Shabaab. More recently, Ethiopian troops crossed the border and expelled Al-Shabaab from Baidoa, a strategic town midway between the Ethiopian border and Mogadishu.
The group has turned to using more suicide attacks in the capital, targeting African Union soldiers and government buildings. The most recent was a suicide bombing by a "volunteer" this week at the Presidential Palace that killed at least five people.
Analysts say there appears to have been growing tension between Somalis within Al-Shabaab and foreign fighters, several hundred of whom are thought to have entered Somalia in recent years to join the group. There may also have been disagreement within the group about the announcement in February of the merger of Al-Shabaab with al Qaeda, and about the group's ban on foreign aid organizations working in
Somalia to save millions threatened by famine.