A man who is believed to have been the first known American suicide bomber in Syria was from South Florida, according to a U.S. official.
Authorities are exploring whether the young man, whose name has not been disclosed, traveled to Syria more than once, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the investigation.
Reports that an American was involved in the suicide attack in the northern province of Idlib on Sunday surfaced online this week. A video posted by the Jabhat al-Nusra, a group linked to al-Qaeda, showed him and another fighter packing a large truck with shells and purportedly driving toward their destination.
The camera then shows a massive explosion in the Idlib countryside, alongside a picture of the man said to be the American cradling a kitten. He was identified as Abu Huraira al-Amriki, “the American.”
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A statement by Jabhat al-Nusra said the attack was one of four coordinated suicide bombings against government positions, in which two other foreign fighters and a Syrian participated. Jihadis on social media identified the two other foreigners as a Maldivan and a Turkestani.
Dozens of Americans have traveled to Syria since the conflict there started, raising concerns that some could return to the United States to launch attacks. Preventing that outcome has become one of the FBI’s top counterterrorism priorities.
Several Americans have died during the conflict in Syria. Still, no other U.S. citizen is known to have staged a suicide attack. Huraira’s ties to Florida were first reported by CNN.
The rebel attacks in Syria come amid a big offensive in the province of Idlib that has produced some significant gains, fueled by an influx of weapons including, for the first time, American TOW anti-tank missiles. This week, the rebels captured the strategically significant town of Khan Sheikhoun which straddles the main highway linking northern and central Syria, one of their most important advances in months.
The rebels now are threatening an offensive against the provincial capital of Idlib, which has remained in government hands since the beginning of the war. Thousands of civilians have fled the town in recent days to escape the anticipated fighting.