The Tweeting Jihadi Expat

by Doug Allen

Omar Hammami, “the most prominent American jihadi left alive,” has established a prolific presence on Twitter under the @abumamerican handle. In an extensive profile of Hammami, Spencer Ackerman describes the development of an unlikely dynamic:

Hammami engages with American security professionals who ask him about his current views on jihad, and he jumps into their discussions of counterterrorism. There’s a notable absence of rancor, and even some constructive criticism, however inadvertent. When Hammami criticized State Department initiatives at confronting extremists like him online, he said those efforts came across as tin-eared. [Extremism analyst J.M.] Berger and Hammami have an extended, public colloquy about the justification and the efficacy of using violence to pursue jihad. All this comes leavened with Star Wars references. Berger wonders if this sort of collegial jihadi-counterterrorist dialogue is “the wave of future, when everyone’s on Twitter.”

Jihadis and their American opposites have engaged each other over the Internet for years, notes Will McCants, a former State Department terrorism adviser. But usually those efforts are tentative and rarely substantial — let alone fun. What’s happening with Hammami is something new.