Omar Hammami grew up as a Southern Baptist in Daphne, Alabama. However, he first began to identify as Muslim in high school after traveling to Syria and meeting his Muslim relatives. He eventually dropped out of college and moved to Canada, where he married a Somali-Canadian woman in 2004.
Hammami abandoned his wife and infant daughter in 2006 to join the terrorist organization Al-Shabaab in Somalia. For the next seven years, he served as a commander, propagandist and recruiter.
Along the way, he formed a bond with Putzel, a third-generation journalist who had covered terrorism for Al Gore’s short-lived channel, Current TV. “For more than a year, we corresponded in secret while he was hiding from U.S. forces,” Putzel says on the podcast.
Hammami was killed in on September 12, 2013, in an early-morning ambush, southwest of the capital, Mogadishu. The FBI removed him from its Most Wanted Terrorists list in November 2013 and he was removed from the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice list that following January. But what made the former American cast aside his family and become a killer?
Across eight podcast episodes, “American Jihadi” will explore Hammami’s secret friendship with Putzel as it takes strange and twisted paths as they dodge government surveillance and risk everything to confide in one another. Featuring never-before-given interviews with Hammami’s family, the CIA and Putzel himself, “American Jihadi” questions what it means to be a journalist, a “hero” and an American.
Listen to the “American Jihadi” podcast wherever podcasts are streamed.