Somalia's defense minister said Tuesday that intelligence reports indicate that an American from Alabama who joined a dangerous militant group may have been killed during an anti-insurgent offensive.
Somali Defense Minister Abdihakim Mohamud Haji Fiqi told The Associated Press that Somali officials do not have a body and that the intelligence reports have not yet been confirmed.
"We have information saying that he died," Fiqi said. "I'm not sure 100 percent sure but this is the information that we get from different sources. We need to make sure."
Omar Hammami, who grew up in the middle-class town of Daphne, Alabama, joined the al-Qaida-linked Somali militants in 2007 while he was in his early 20s. He became the most high-profile American member of al-Shabab and had taken on the nom de guerre of Abu Mansour al-Amriki, or "the American."
Hammami starred in jihadist videos that showed him rapping and running with gun-wielding fighters. He was indicted for his role in al-Shabab in August.
An e-mail seeking comment sent to Omar's father in Alabama was not immediately returned.
Officials with al-Shabab did not immediately answer phone calls seeking comment.
Last August the U.S. announced that it had charged 14 people as participants in "a deadly pipeline" to Somalia that routed money and fighters from the United States to al-Shabab. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said then that Hammami "has assumed an operational role in that organization."
Hammami attended the University of South Alabama in Mobile, where he was president of the Muslim Student Association nine years ago. Hammami enrolled at the university in 2001 but left in 2002.
Hammami's father, Shafik, is an engineer with the state highway department who also has served as president of the Islamic Society of Mobile. Shafik Hammami confirmed his relationship to Omar Hammami in e-mail exchanges with AP last year but declined further comment.
More than 50 African Union troops have been killed since the latest offensive in Somalia began, Nairobi-based diplomats have told AP, though AU officials have acknowledged only a handful of deaths.
Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed on Monday claimed victory over the insurgents, and he called for the "final elimination" of al-Shabab, though it's far from clear that the militants have been defeated.
Fiqi, in the interview, also said that African Union peacekeepers and Somali troops are having trouble defeating militants when they seek shelter in concrete buildings and use civilians as human shields.
He said he wanted the United States to contribute air attacks to the offensive.
"We are facing hard urban warfare which is not easy as open land warfare. We would welcome any air support from the United States and our other associates to deal with that situation," Fiqi said.
Al-Shabab is bolstered by militant veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts who have trained Somalis in tactics like suicide bombs and sniper fire. American-Somalis have also joined the militants, and Fiqi accused the foreigners of fostering terrorism in East Africa. Al-Shabab claimed a twin suicide bombing in Uganda in July that killed 76 people.
Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991, when warlords toppled the country's government and then turned on each other.
Straziuso reported from Nairobi, Kenya. Associated Press reporter Jay Reeves in Montgomery, Alabama, contributed to this report.