What’s it like to accidentally become confidants with a terrorist? Journalist Christof Putzel found himself in just that position in the early 2010s, when Omar Hammami reached out to him.
Alabama-born Hammami, who had embraced his Muslim roots in high school, moved to Egypt in his early twenties. From there, he joined al-Shabaab and moved to Somalia to fight in the jihad. He became known as Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki — meaning “the American” — and made a series of rapping recruitment videos, which made him a widely studied figure. By 2011, reports of his death began cropping up regularly — although he kept reappearing alive.
It was around this time that Hammami reached out to Putzel, a third-generation journalist who had covered terrorism for Al Gore’s short-lived channel Current TV. That was when Putzel found himself in a precarious situation.
“For more than a year we corresponded in secret,” Putzel says in this exclusive trailer for his new podcast American Jihadi, which chronicles Hammami’s story and his correspondence with the journalist. It also gets into the ethical conundrum that Putzel discovered in his reporting — when it comes to known threats against America, how close is too close? Where does the line for a journalist end, and the line for accomplice begin?
As former CIA officer Yael Eisenstat says in the trailer, “How could you have all that information and keep it to yourself, when you knew that we were not only looking for him, but that this person was a threat?”