Florida Man Carries Out Suicide Attack In Syria
An American who grew up in Florida and went to Syria to fight with the rebellion is being blamed for a suicide bombing:
WASHINGTON — An American who blew himself up in an attack in Syria on Sunday has been identified by law enforcement officials as Moner Mohammad Abusalha, a man in his early 20s who grew up in Florida and traveled to Syria late last year.
The officials said they believed that Mr. Abusalha, who adopted the nom de guerre Abu Huraira al-Amriki, used a large truck in helping to carry out the bombing in the northern province of Idlib, where he had traveled after spending two months in a training camp of the militant group the Nusra Front in Aleppo. The officials said they thought it was the first time an American had been involved in a suicide attack in Syria.
Mr. Abusalha’s identity was confirmed Friday night by the State Department. American law enforcement and intelligence agencies made the identification after analyzing intelligence from Syria and foreign governments, and information gleaned from interviews with family members and friends of the bomber in Florida, one official said.
The size of the blast, which was shown on a video clip posted online by the Nusra Front, has led the authorities to believe that it will be impossible to ever identify Mr. Abusalha’s remains.
A Syrian fighter from the Nusra Front recalled Mr. Abusalha, whom he knew only by his alias, as an Arab-American who spoke Arabic poorly but was dedicated to the jihadist cause. “He was a generous, brave, tough man, always on the front lines in battles,” said the fighter, who identified himself by a nom de guerre, Abu Abdulrahman, and said that he was currently in Idlib Province, where Mr. Abusalha died.
A photo circulating on jihadist social media accounts this week showed a smiling young man, bearded and holding a cat, who was said to be the bomber. Activists also posted a video said to show the attack in which rebels load what appear to be tank shells into a large armored vehicle, and there is an explosion after the vehicle drives down the road.
Mr. Abusalha had been among several dozen Americans on the radar of federal law enforcement officials because of past trips to Syria.
One senior law enforcement official said the authorities believed that the attack occurred during the second visit Mr. Abusalha made to Syria to fight alongside Islamist militants who are battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad. He had been in Syria since late last year, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a continuing investigation.
News of the suicide attack surfaced on Tuesday in Twitter messages from the Nusra Front, an Islamist extremist group in Syria aligned with Al Qaeda. And on Facebook, there was praise for Mr. Abusalha and what he had done.
“When his turn came up” to carry out a suicide bombing, he “was very happy, because he will meet his God after that,” Abu Abdulrahman, the fighter, said via Facebook.
Ahmed Assi, an activist who works for Suqour al-Sham, a rebel group that fights alongside the Nusra Front, said by phone from Turkey that he had seen the American in Syria about a week before. Mr. Assi said that he did not know the American’s real name, but that he spoke broken Arabic and had converted to Islam.
Abusalha is likely not the only American who has taken up the Syrian rebels cause:
Intelligence and law enforcement officials said on Friday that it was easy for American citizens to get in and out of Syria, and that many had traveled there for humanitarian reasons, presenting a challenge in determining who might be planning to carry out terrorist attacks in the United States when they return.
“It’s trying to identify those individuals who have violent intent,” said Andrew McCabe, a senior F.B.I. official. “That, quite frankly, is not easy.”
Mr. McCabe, speaking at a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that Americans who had traveled to Syria came from diverse backgrounds and upbringings.
“When you put them together, they look like America,” he said.
The civil war in Syria, now in its fourth year, has become a magnet for Westerners seeking to fight with the rebels. American officials say that about 100 Americans have traveled to Syria since the civil war began, mainly to fight for one of the hundreds of rebel groups combating the Assad government.
The F.B.I., the C.I.A., the National Counterterrorism Center and the Department of Homeland Security recently created a special team of analysts to try to prevent American jihadists from returning home undetected.
It’s been apparent for some time that jihadists were flocking to Syria in much the same manner that they had flocked to Iraq in the years after the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003. Back then, they came to fight Americans. This time, they’re coming to fight the government of Bashar Assad. The biggest concern for the future is that they are turning into the next generation of terrorists that will show up in the western world.