See you on the other side brothers. You are not forgotten. -Brandon
In the Media Below
Navy's SEAL program turns 50
Coronado, there from the start, remains the elite community's baseBy Jeanette Steele
Friday, January 13, 2012
The Navy’s SEALs turn 50 this month. President John F. Kennedy, a Navy man himself, would probably be proud.
Created at Kennedy’s behest in 1962 to counter Communist guerrillas in Vietnam, the former World War II frogmen have transformed into one of the U.S. military’s elite forces, doing everything from traditional fighting to stealth missions to taking out pirates.
And while famously tight-lipped, these sea-air-land fighters created a story too big to keep quiet last year: The May night raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Active and retired SEALs are looking back on their history this week.
“From the Mekong Delta to the Hindu Kush, deep at sea or far into the desert, Navy SEALs have proven themselves to be tough, versatile, and successful,” said Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, Naval Special Warfare commanding officer, at a closed-to-the-public ceremony in Coronado Friday.
The force, created out of Navy underwater demolition units, started with two teams, 20 officers and 100 enlisted sailors on Jan. 1, 1962. Coronado was the location of SEAL Team One; Little Creek, Va., was home to Team Two.
Early training photos show men in swim trunks crawling under barbed wire on the beaches of the Silver Strand.
Today, the SEALs run 10 teams from a headquarters at Coronado Naval Amphibious Base and include 600 officers and 1,900 enlisted. They are still in Virginia but also at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
All SEALs do their make-or-break training at the Coronado amphibious base. It's 21 weeks of physical and mental pain called BUD/S, for basic underwater demolition/SEAL.
In 50 years, the small force has included five Medal of Honor recipients.
The last two came posthumously from actions in 2005 and 2006 in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The Navy has since named warships after those two SEALs, Lt. Michael Murphy and Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor.
Is the Osama bin Laden mission the SEALs’ highest achievement to date? Debatable, say some retired SEAL officers in San Diego.
“It was one target, one op,” said retired Rear Adm. George Worthington, a SEAL who did two Vietnam combat tours and led Naval Special Warfare Command before retiring in 1992.
“They are running 12 such operations a night,” agreed his friend, retired Rear Adm. Cathal “Irish” Flynn, who led SEAL detachments in Vietnam and was the first active-duty SEAL flag officer.
But, Flynn added, while SEAL missions in Vietnam took a heavy toll on the Viet Cong, the strategic impact of bin Laden’s death may be more permanent.
“I don’t think that al-Qaeda is the same organization without Osama bin Laden,” Flynn said. “Taking him out, even if his ability to communicate had been diminished, I think al-Qaeda is considerably less of a threat today that it was a year ago.”
It has been a decade of frequent wartime deployments, with special operations forces especially in demand.
That kind of absence exacts a price on families and personal lives.
The U.S. Special Operations Command has created a task force to address the pressure on its fighters and their loved ones.
“I’ve been harping about that to whomever will listen,” said Worthington, a Chula Vista resident who is working on a U.S. Naval Institute photo book on the SEALs.
“Sons, teenagers, growing up without a father. Guys are on an almost infinite deployment cycle. It’s a concern.”
SEALs, and other special operations forces, will likely be protected in the coming defense budget cutbacks. The Pentagon hinted as much when it unveiled its strategic outline last week.
Not just in Afghanistan, SEALs are working in 30 countries right now, according the Coronado headquarters.
U.S. special operations forces have been under orders since 2006 to grow by 15 percent, which has kept the Coronado BUD/S compound busy.
The SEALs even opened a recruiting arm in late 2005. Historically, more than two-thirds of SEAL hopefuls don’t make it.
Aside from adding personnel, the other solution to deployment wear-and-tear could be fewer missions.
“Lowering the operations tempo, there are trade-offs,” Flynn said. “We can maintain this tempo and have no force in five years. We will have worn people out.”
But, he said, if the Navy cuts back on deployments, what opportunities might that give America’s enemies?
“It requires some exquisite judgment,” the former SEAL said.
Key dates in SEAL historyJanuary 1962: Two Navy Sea Air Land (SEAL) operating teams are established to conduct unconventional warfare and counter-guerrilla operations. SEAL Team One is formed in Coronado, and SEAL Team Two is established at Little Creek, Va. The first SEALs are selected from existing Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT), the “frogmen” responsible for clearing the way for beach landings in World War II and Korea. Almost immediately, SEALs begin acting as advisers in Vietnam.
February 1966-Dec. 7, 1971: SEAL teams conduct direct missions in Vietnam. Three Medals of Honor and seven Navy Crosses are awarded to UDT/SEAL team members for service in that conflict, and 49 UDT/SEALs are killed.
May 1, 1983: The teams drop the UDT designation and are redesignated as SEAL teams or Swimmer Delivery Vehicle Teams (SDVT).
October 1983: A SEAL team infiltrates the capital of Grenada during the U.S. invasion and secures the Government House.
August 1990: SEALs from San Diego are first into Saudi Arabia in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
January 1991: SEALs are involved in combat activities during Operation Desert Storm, including the capture of oil platforms used by Iraqi soldiers as anti-aircraft positions. SEALs also participated in combat operations in Somalia, Haiti and elsewhere in the 1990s.
Oct. 22, 2007: President Bush awards a posthumous Medal of Honor to Lt. Michael P. Murphy, 29, a SEAL from Patchogue, N.Y. Murphy was killed on June 28, 2005, while leading a reconnaissance team in Afghanistan.
April 7, 2008: SEAL Michael Anthony Monsoor is awarded the Medal of Honor. Monsoor, a Coronado-based sailor, threw himself on a grenade in Ramadi, Iraq, Sept. 29, 2006.
April 12, 2009: SEAL snipers kill three Somali pirates and rescue an American cargo-ship captain, ending a five-day standoff.
Feb. 11, 2011: Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus presents the Silver and Bronze stars to Joseph Molina, a Coronado-based SEAL who grew up in Imperial Beach, for his actions in Afghanistan in 2009.
May 2, 2011: SEALs storm a fortified compound in Pakistan and kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
SOURCES: sealswcc.com/navy-seals-history.aspx; American Naval History: An Illustrated Chronology of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, 1775-Present by Jack Sweetman; news reports.
http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/jan/13/navys-seal-program-turns-50/ Galdorisi And Ex-SEAL Couch Coauthor Novelization Of ‘Act Of Valor’ Movie (Cornado news Thursday, January 12, 2012) … David Axelson
George Galdorisi and Dick Couch have a lot in common. Both graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, with Couch graduating in 1967 and Galdorisi in 1970. Although they overlapped at the Academy for a year, they didn’t meet until about a dozen years ago through their mutual interest in writing. Now they share an agent and Tuesday, January 10 they will officially be coauthors of the novelization of “Act of Valor,” the book that precedes the movie of the same name. The film goes into universal release Friday, February 24.
First some background on the movie “Act of Valor.” In 2008, Navy Special Warfare requested proposals from a handful of production houses for a film on the SEALs. According to an August 26, 2011 article in The Wall Street Journal written by John Jurgensen, the goals of the production were to bolster recruiting efforts, honor fallen team members and correct past movie productions that did not represent the SEALs accurately.
Winning the rights to the project were the Bandito Brothers from Los Angeles, who are Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh. Galdorisi explained how McCoy and Waugh won the movie rights. “The Bandito Brothers had done a recruiting commercial for the Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen (SWCC). They are also the sons of Hollywood stuntmen and accomplished athletes. They had done some award-winning documentaries and that helped their credentials. The Navy wanted to reach men aged 19-25 who might want to have careers in the SEALs. Their feeling is, if it goes fast or it blows up, we want to film it.”
The Bandito Brothers spent two years filming actual SEAL training events and emerged with 1,800 hours of film footage. The production deal included access to SEALs and their major training exercises, but no financing was supplied by the Navy for “Act of Valor.”
One of the unique aspects of the film is that the lead roles are played by active duty SEALs, not actors. The movie will promote a branch of the service that prefers to operate well under the radar. According to Couch, the ultimate SEAL accolade is, “You are very professional.” Each of the SEALs who star in the movie have returned to active duty. They will not be listed individually in the closing movie credits.
Now back to Galdorisi and Couch and what made them the ideal pair to write the novelization. Couch graduated at the top of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Class No. 45 in 1969. “Back in my day, the Honorman was based on test and academic scores,” said Couch last week in a phone interview from his home in Ketchum, Idaho. “In those days you had to do a tour on a ship before you went into the SEALs. Also in my class was Sandy Prouty, who was No. 2 at the FBI. Another classmate was Tommy Norris, who was a SEAL Team Two Medal of Honor winner.”
Couch was an active duty SEAL during the Viet Nam War from 1968-72, serving as a platoon commander in SEAL Team One. After his active duty role in the SEALs, Couch served as maritime operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency from 1973-77. He remained involved in the SEAL community, serving in the SEAL Reserves and attaining the rank of captain before he retired in 1997.
Galdorisi, a Brooklyn native, became a helicopter pilot and served in the Navy for 30 years before retiring. He now works for SPAWAR System Center Pacific in Point Loma, where he is director of the corporate strategy group. Galdorisi and his wife Becky have been married for 37 years and as a disclaimer it should be noted that Becky taught my daughter Kristen in fifth grade at Silver Strand Elementary School. Since Becky was a teacher in the district for more than 20 years, she is still far better known in Coronado circles than her career military, turned novelist husband.
Galdorisi started his writing career by authoring articles for professional journals in the late 1970’s. His first book was published in 1995 when he worked with Doug Bandow to produce “The United States and the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention: The Cases Pro and Con.” Two years later he coauthored with Coronado resident Kevin Vienna a follow-up to his first book, this one entitled “Beyond the Law of the Sea: New Directions for United States Ocean Policy.”
Galdorisi’s best known book came out in 2009 and was entitled, “Leave No Man Behind: The Saga of Combat Search and Rescue,” a tome he wrote with Tom Phillips. “It’s recognized as the only complete history of the discipline from the early days to today,” Galdorisi explained. “It was a Military Book Club selection and is on the U.S. Navy Chief of Operations reading list. It’s not a light read. It is 650 pages long and contains hundreds of citations.” All together Galdorisi has authored six books.
Couch has written 14 books, with his 15th slated to come out in June 2012. He recounts his beginning years as an author. “I reached middle age and realized I can’t do these things any more. I was writing a spy book because I spent several years at the CIA and I thought I could draw on that. Then a book came out about the SEALs in the Delta, but it wasn’t about SEALs, it was about a 50-caliber tub gunner. But the author wrote it like he was a SEAL. So I called the publisher and he said SEALs are a really hot item right now. So, I set aside the spy book and wrote “SEAL Team One” in 1991. It continues to sell well. It was serendipitous.”
A dose of luck helps create a professional writer, according to Couch. “It’s an interesting story. I had written four books and I wasn’t sure this (occupation) was going to do well. A pretty good seller was written about the Marine Corps that made money for Crown Publishing. They asked me, can you do for Navy SEAL training, what he did for the Marines? I said, ‘Let me think about that.’ Things were a little more relaxed in 1997-98. But that book got me almost independent and sprung me forward to a career being a writer. “Chosen Soldier” is by far my best seller. “The Warrior Elite” continues to do well.”
Couch added that his best book on the subject of SEAL training is the aforementioned “The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228.” He considers his best volume regarding SEAL operations to be “The Sheriff of Ramadi: Navy SEALs and the Winning of al-Anbar,” published in 2008. Coming later in 2012 is “Sua Sponte: Forging of the Modern American Ranger.” Couch said, “I am happy with the book and proud to be associated with the Rangers. They are the most heavily engaged organization of any of the special operations components. Those guys are out there all the time. Rangers don’t patrol, train or do counter-insurgency. They either capture or kill bad guys. That’s what they do for a living.”
Couch holds a special place in the Special Operations Community. “Writing a nonfiction book is like writing a 120,000 word term paper. I’ve been really blessed. Writing the SEAL books was one thing. But the Green Berets said ‘come on in’ and it was the same thing with the Rangers. Nobody else has done that. No other writer has come in, lived on the base and followed them around. Nobody else has been in a position to write that book. It’s my niche and I respect that trust. Sometimes they ask me to take things out, but that happens very seldom.”
Galdorisi considers Couch, “A friend and mentor writing-wise.” April 2011, Couch, Galdorisi and Bandito Brother Mike McCoy went to lunch together. “Mike started talking about the “Act of Valor” project,” recounted Galdorisi. “We went to a screening in a little eight seat theater on La Cienega Boulevard. The film was pretty much in the can and was about 85 or 90 percent complete. It was the most riveting 100 minutes of film I have ever seen in my life.”
During the conversation with McCoy in April, Galdorisi and Couch inquired about the novelization of the movie. Galdorisi quoted McCoy as saying, “The project is moving so fast, we haven’t thought about that.” Shortly thereafter, John Silbersack, the agent who represents Couch and Galdorisi, began negotiations with the Bandito Brothers on the book rights.
While the talks continued, Galdorisi and Couch started their collaboration on the novelization. “We started writing on complete speculation,” said Galdorisi, meaning there was no guarantee that there would be a buyer for the book. “We got the script from the Bandito Brothers that Kurt Johnstad had written, which was 97 pages quadruple spaced. Using the script we wrote a 10,000 word outline. Then we wrote 35,000 words, almost half of the book and gave it to our agent. We thought that should be enough to represent what we can do with the novel. We wrote concurrently in very broad strokes.”
Meanwhile on the business side, the Bandito Brothers sold the movie rights to Relativity Media for a reported $13 million. In modern day Hollywood, when movie rights are sold, it’s a package deal. Galdorisi said, “That includes the book, the game and the t-shirts. The thanks in the book go to our agent. It was his persistence on the six-month project that nailed down the book contract.”
Somewhere along the line, best-selling author Tom Clancy became part of the project. “Clancy saw the movie, was impressed by it and wanted to be attached,” said Galdorisi. “On the book cover it says, ‘Tom Clancy presents Act of Valor.’ We went with Berkeley Press, which is part of the Penguin chain and we used Clancy’s editor. From the stand point of selling books, Clancy’s name is a good thing.”
Couch and Galdorisi split the writing of “Act of Valor,” which Couch describes. “George can’t do SEAL dialogue or SEAL action or how they prepare for a mission. The helicopter stuff and the aviation stuff was his. It was a matter of expertise. He’s an aviator and we just had to split up the stuff. We’d write, swap it by email and read it. Kind of go back and forth. It had to fit together. We don’t write the same and it had to mesh. We had to make it flow together. I relied on George for the editing.”
Galdorisi related his contributions. “I took the villains, which was so much fun. They have much more granularity and detail. I did a full character sketch on the villains. I was responsible for two of the major characters and for five or six of the minor ones. In one part of the book, the ships involved were all amphibious ships and I had the chance to bring my expertise to this. There were helicopter operations too.”
From the first viewing of the movie in mid-April to completion of the writing in early December, the novelization was completed in eight months. “They had a production schedule in mind,” said Galdorisi of the publishers. “I’m sure they thought these guys can’t finish on time. At one point we went to the mattresses and in the space of 10 days we created the remaining 40,000 plus words of the book. I was eating my meals in front of the computer. We turned it in on time, which we are very proud of. We were getting E-mails from our editor titled MEGA, MEGA RUSH. NEED ASAP. He would say, ‘Here it is, I need it back by tomorrow. We were getting E-mails from New York at 2 am their time.”
Unlike the movie, which had all 1,800 hours of film reviewed by officials so that SEAL tactics wouldn’t be revealed, the book was not subject to vetting, according to Couch. “This is a non-fiction book. In the past with non-fiction books I have welcomed a review and every time it was helpful. But this is a novel and I don’t have security clearance. So we didn’t have to answer to anybody along those lines. This is make-believe and I don’t have to check.”
The final result was a 340-page paperback that runs 87,000 words and includes a forward by Tom Clancy. The official release date of the book is January 10th and the $9.99 paperback will be shipped nationwide, is available on websites, through Costco and locally at Bay Books.
Now back to the film “Act of Valor,” which Lance Alspaugh owner of the Village Theatre says, “Has a 99.9 percent chance of playing in Coronado.” Galdorisi is a big fan of the movie. “The film footage evolved very naturally and organically into a film. In my opinion, the film isn’t just for recruiting SEALs. It can be for a SEAL, a SWCC or someone who wants to be in the submarine Navy. They may want to be on an amphibious ship or fly a Harrier. This is for real Navy people. This isn’t Johnny Depp shooting an M-4 rifle. It’s a marvelous movie for the Navy overall. I hope the book does the movie justice.”
FORMER NAVY SEAL AND HEAD SEAL SNIPER INSTRUCTOR TO RELEASE
"THE RED CIRCLE" with St. Martin's Press April 10th, 2012. You can pre-order at Barnes and Noble by clicking this link: The Red Circle
Praise for “The Red Circle”
“There are a lot of people out there who are alive today because of the efforts, skill, and dedication of Brandon and others like him. His training saved my life. What you’re about to read is not just the making of a Navy SEAL sniper, but the story of one guy who went on to help shape the lives of hundreds of elite special forces warriors.”
— Marcus Luttrell, author of the New York Times bestseller Lone Survivor, from the Foreword
“The story of today’s Navy SEALs is Brandon Webb’s to tell, and The Red Circle does it masterfully. This definitive work at once proves and explodes the myths behind Navy Special Warfare and the men who meet its challenges. Strap in for wild ride.”
— CDR Ward Carroll, USN (ret.), editor of Military.com
“Another forceful statement from the Brotherhood of SEALs, Brandon Webb’s The Red Circle illustrates why he wanted to be a SEAL, what it takes to be a SEAL, how you survive the life of a SEAL, and the value of mind over matter. A valuable read for anyone aspiring to reach goals that seem unattainable—in any walk of life.”
— CDR Richard Marcinko, USN (Ret.), founding father and first commanding officer of SEAL Team Six, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Rogue Warrior
“Brandon’s story hits center mass! If you want to know what makes up the DNA of a Navy SEAL and have a behind-the-scenes look at the best sniper program in the world, then hold 1 right for wind and read The Red Circle.”
— Chris Kyle, SEAL Team 3 Chief and bestselling author of American Sniper
“The Red Circle beautifully captures the author’s introspection, humor, and lion-hearted daring. A riveting true-life adventure story, told with frankness and skill.”
— Pat Kilbane, actor (MADtv, Seinfeld, Semi-Pro) and author of The Brain-Eater’s Bible
“The Red Circle book personifies all that is great within the Naval Special Warfare community. It’s all true (even the stories about me!), and most importantly it shows the reader that there is no one thing that makes a good operator or reliable frogman in the field. We all come from different backgrounds and leave that past behind to focus on mission success and the wellbeing of one another in combat. On more than one occasion, I trusted my life to Brandon and always felt better knowing he had my back. Some of the stories he tells here are hilarious, and all are told from the heart—and in true team guy fashion, with no mercy! These are the stories from behind the SEAL platoon walls that the books always leave out—until now.”
— Chris Osman, former SEAL, coauthor of SEALs: The US Navy’s Elite Fighting Force
Americans rise in rank within Somalia jihadi militant group linked to al-Qaida
By Associated Press, Updated: Saturday, January 14, 10:41 AMNAIROBI, Kenya — The October al-Qaida video shows a light-skinned man handing out food to families displaced by famine in Somalia. But the masked man is not Somali, or even African — he’s a Wisconsin native who grew up in San Diego.
A handful of young Muslims from the U.S. are taking high-visibility propaganda and operational roles inside an al-Qaida-linked insurgent force in Somalia known as al-Shabab. While most are from Minnesota, which has the largest Somali population in the nation, al-Shabab members include a Californian and an Alabaman with no ancestral ties to Somalia.
“They are being deployed in roles that appear to be shrewdly calculated to raise al-Shabab’s international profile and to recruit others, especially those from the United States and other English-speaking countries,” said Anders Folk, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted suspected al-Shabab supporters in Minnesota.
Officials fear another terrorist attack in East Africa. Kenya announced on Jan. 7 that it had thwarted attempted al-Shabab attacks over the holidays. The same day, Britain’s Foreign Office urged Britons in Kenya to be extra vigilant, warning that terrorists there may be “in the final stages of planning attacks.”
More than 40 people have traveled from the U.S. to Somalia to join al-Shabab since 2007, and 15 of them have died, according to a report from the House Homeland Security Committee. Federal investigations into al-Shabab recruitment in the U.S. have centered on Minnesota, which has more than 32,000 Somalis.
At least 21 men have left Minnesota to join al-Shabab in that same time. The FBI has confirmed that at least two of them died in Somalia as suicide bombers. A U.S. citizen is suspected in a third suicide bombing, and another is under investigation in connection with a fourth bombing on Oct. 29 that killed 15 people.
The star of the al-Qaida video was Jehad Mostafa, 30, a Californian who handed out food using the name Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir, according to the SITE Monitoring Service. The Washington Post reported last year that Mostafa served as top lieutenant to Saleh Nabhan, a senior al-Qaida operative killed by Navy SEALs in a helicopter attack inside Somalia in 2010.
Mostafa and the Alabaman, Omar Hammami, 27, are among about a dozen men who have been charged in federal court in the U.S. and are believed to be in Somalia.
The Americans appear to have been motivated by the Ethiopian army’s intervention in Somalia in 2006, which they saw as an invasion. However, many experts believe it’s only a matter of time before al-Shabab turns its wrath on the U.S., which in February 2008 designated it as a terrorist organization. The group killed 76 people in terrorist bombings in Uganda in 2010 during the World Cup final.
U.S. military commanders fear that Americans inside al-Shabab could train as bombmakers and use their U.S. passports to carry out attacks in the United States.
E.K. Wilson, the agent overseeing the FBI’s investigation in Minneapolis, said he cannot comment on whether there is an outstanding order to capture or kill Americans fighting for al-Shabab. The FBI has publicly said the Americans should return to the U.S.
It’s a mystery what caused Mostafa, a young man whom many remember as mild and friendly, to join an extremist group.
Mostafa grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of California San Diego. Imam Abdeljalil Mezgouri of the Islamic Center of San Diego, the city’s largest mosque, said Mostafa was a respectful teen and good student.
“He was a very quiet, very loving boy. He didn’t talk too much but when he did talk, people liked him,” said Mezgouri.
Mezgouri said Mostafa got married in his early 20s to a woman he believed was from Somalia.
Public records show Mostafa was the president of the now-defunct Muslim Youth Council of San Diego, or MYCSD. The former organization’s Web site says the group was “dedicated to showing the world that Islam is a religion of peace and Muslims are a peaceful and productive part of society.”
Mostafa’s father, Halim Mostafa, a Kurdish Syrian, is a prominent figure in San Diego’s Muslim community who has tried to build bridges with non-Muslims. He made a low-budget film released in 2008 called “Mozlym” to show how the true meaning of Islam is often lost amid the misconceptions of non-Muslims in America, according to the film’s Web site.
Mostafa’s father declined to talk.
“I just don’t want to get involved. I’m really sorry I cannot say anything. God bless you,” he said.
Edgar Hopida, a spokesman for the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Halim Mostafa believes in the most liberal interpretation of Islam and noted that “it’s ironic if his son is involved with al-Shabab.”
Mostafa is believed to have met American militant Anwar al-Awlaki about a decade ago at a San Diego mosque, according to The Washington Post. He went to Somalia in 2005. Federal officials declined to comment.
Mostafa was indicted in August 2010 on terrorism charges for allegedly providing material support to al-Shabab. Mostafa has a leadership role inside al-Shabab and serves as a key liaison to al-Qaida, said Evan Kohlmann, who has assisted government investigations into al-Shabab recruiting and financing.
AP could not reach Mostafa or Hammami for comment. A spokesman for al-Shabab said that the questions AP emailed were “of a personal nature relating to the roles and activities of certain individuals and for that reason they were left unanswered.”
The spokesman also said al-Shabab and al-Qaida were “brothers in Islam.” He did not provide a name but emailed from an address used by al-Shabab’s media outreach wing, which also recently launched a Twitter feed.
The Alabaman, Hammami, 27, has taken on the role of jihadi lecturer and Islamic scholar. After U.S. Navy SEALs killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan earlier this year, Hammami threatened to avenge the killing at a news conference near Mogadishu.
Al-Awlaki’s death by a U.S. drone in Yemen in September left Hammami as the most influential U.S. English speaker in the jihadi propaganda sphere, said terrorism expert Ben Venzke. Hammami is also known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki or “the American.”
“His more accessible image and manner of speaking may prove a growing and significant threat to not just the region around Somalia but for future attacks on U.S. soil,” said Venzke of the Washington-based IntelCenter.
Hammami grew up in Daphne, Ala., a bedroom community of 20,000 outside Mobile known for sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico, seafood and high school football. The phone directory lists 43 Christian churches and not a single Islamic congregation in Daphne.
The son of a Christian mother and a Syrian-born Muslim father, Hammami attended Daphne High School. Then-assistant principal Don Blanchard recalls Hammami as generally well liked.
“Omar I would not classify as a troubled kid,” said Blanchard.
Hammami enrolled at the University of South Alabama, where he was president of the Muslim Student Association. Following the 2001 terror attacks, Hammami spoke to the student newspaper.
“Even now it’s difficult to believe a Muslim could have done this,” The Vanguard quoted Hammami as saying.
Hammami went to Somalia in 2006. He was indicted in 2007 on terrorism charges, and faced more charges in 2009 for providing material support to terrorists.
Hammami, who wears a long beard and often raps in al-Shabab videos, released a nearly 50-minute lecture in October to commemorate five years with the group. He spouts hatred for “Western oppression.” In the video, provided to AP by the IntelCenter, he compares his upbringing in America with his life in Somalia, where he says a microwave — “or even a normal oven” — is a rarity.
The English speaker serves as a recruiter and fundraiser and is one of the top people in charge of al-Shabab’s foreign fighters, Kohlmann said.
Hammami attends morning fighting drills and motivates new recruits, former al-Shabab fighter Abdi Hassan told AP. Hammami avoids mobile phones for fear intelligence agencies will trace him, and uses pseudonyms on the Internet.
“He sometimes cries with emotion, which makes others cry with him,” said Hassan. He added, “Every new American is asked to convince his friends to come. The Americans’ suicide attacks and speeches are meant to attract other Americans.”
The Americans helped produce what Venzke calls one of the most sophisticated recruitment videos ever released, featuring Minneapolis men in a July 2008 ambush of Ethiopian troops along a road in Somalia. Another video features a Minneapolis man who appeals to others to join the cause in English.
Al-Shabab does not just recruit from the U.S. Three suspects accused of having ties to al-Shabab are now in prison in Australia and awaiting sentencing for allegedly planning an attack on an Australian military base.
Dozens of U.K. residents have also traveled to Somalia to join al-Shabab, and the British government is concerned that Somalia shows many of the characteristics that made Afghanistan “a seedbed for terrorism.”
Rick Nelson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in even the possibility of military reprisal might not deter al-Shabab from carrying out an attack inside the United States.
“All the elements are there for it to happen,” Nelson said.