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Omar Hammami – known to followers as Abu Mansour "Al-Amriki" (the American) – ate at Somali restaurants and prayed in Somali mosques.
He married a Toronto woman of Somali origin and had a daughter with her.
Then, after learning Somali ways, he left to join the Horn of Africa's top terror group, Al-Shabab, to wage Islamic jihad and recruit other foreign nationals to the cause, say former friends and relatives speaking publicly of the terrorist's Toronto connections for the first time.
"He betrayed us," says a former friend who worked with Hammami at a Weston Rd. pizzeria. "For a man to be saying that, Islamically, it is okay to be killing innocent people – and yesterday you fed him bread and welcomed him into your houses – it kind of shatters you."
Five ethnic Somali men disappeared from Scarborough this fall, all friends believed recruited into Al-Shabab. Three are said by family associates to have since phoned home from Somalia. No direct connection to Hammami is known but in the Somali community his Internet postings are notorious.
On a 2008 recruitment video, referring to one of his dead fighters, Hammami says, "We need more like him.
"So if you can encourage more of your children and more of your neighbours, anyone around, to send people like him to this jihad, it would be a great asset for us."
A least 20 young men have left Minneapolis, Minn., for Al-Shabab in the last 18 months. One of them is confirmed to have blown himself up with a car bomb in the Somali port town of Bosasso. Five others are said by relatives to be dead.
Other young men have left from Boston, Columbus, San Diego and Seattle. Others have joined from Australia and the United Kingdom.
The suicide bomber who killed three government ministers and at least 16 others at a graduating ceremony for doctors and engineers last month in Mogadishu was recruited from Denmark.
Hammami himself is said to have been wounded in fighting late last year.
Al-Shabab's stated goals are to take power from the fragile government backed by African Union troops and turn Somalia into an Islamic state friendly to Al Qaeda. Ultimately, its leaders say, the aim is to establish a global Islamic state.
"We are striving to establish the Islaamic Khilaafah from East to West," Hammami writes in an Internet posting of Jan. 8, 2008, "after removing the occupier and killing the apostates."
For Torontonians, al-Shabab recruitment presents another terrifying possibility: A fanatic returns to explode himself in a crowd.
Or as RCMP Commissioner William Elliott put it in October: "The potential follow-on threat is Somali-Canadians who travel to Somalia to fight and then return, imbued with both extremist ideology and the skills necessary to translate it into direct action."
Omar Hammami is 25 years old. He grew up in Daphne, Ala., just outside Mobile.
His mother is Baptist by religion. His father is Shafik Hammami, a Syrian-born engineer with the Alabama transportation department and president of the Islamic Society of Mobile. Reached by phone last week, he refused comment.
Although Hammami grew up Baptist, he converted to Islam in the late 1990s while attending Daphne High School.
"He had tons of friends," fellow student Shellie Brooks told Fox News four months ago, "and of course things changed a bit when he converted because his beliefs changed."
In September 2001, Hammami had just started computer science studies at the University of South Alabama – and been elected head of the Muslim Student Association – when Al Qaeda launched its suicide attacks on the United States....
With thanks to Women Against Shariah