Omar Hammami, son of a Syrian father and American mother, was born and raised in the United States and was by all accounts well-adjusted and popular, even being elected school president his sophomore year. Today, he is a notorious terrorist in Somalia. The New York Times Sunday magazine examines his path to radicalization.
"While other American terror suspects have drawn greater publicity, Hammami exercises a more powerful role, commanding guerrilla forces in the field, organizing attacks and plotting strategy with Qaeda operatives," writes Andrea Elliott in "The Jihadist Next Door."
Elliott paints a portrait of a young boy who was raised Baptist but who by his teen years had accepted his father's faith of Islam.
An interesting early sign of things to come is given in a snippet of a remembered conversation that a friend relays to Elliott:
"One boy in the class suggested that bin Laden should be shot dead. 'What if I said that about Billy Graham?' Hammami demanded. 'Billy Graham is a peaceable preacher,' the boy, a Christian, recalled saying. 'Osama bin Laden is a terrorist.' 'One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,' Hammami replied," writes Elliott.
That conversation took place in 2000 when few people even knew who bin Laden was.
It's hard to say how much any one person's journey can tell us about what causes radicalization and how to spot future radicals before it's too late, but Hammami's story is nonetheless most definitely worth the read.