An American citizen from South Florida has been identified as the suicide bomber featured in an online video which captures an attack that occurred in the northern province of Idlib, Syria, on Sunday. The unnamed man, believed to be the first known American suicide bomber in Syria, goes by the nom de guerre Abu Hurayra Al-Amriki, meaning Abu Hurayra (“The American”) in Arabic. The name is popular among Sunni Muslims and is the name of the narrator of Hadith, a collection of traditions containing the words of the Prophet Mohammed.
According to authorities, Hurayra was working in Syria with an al Qaida-backed militant group, the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, which is fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Intelligence sources have confirmed that the man in the video is an American citizen, but have refused to divulge his name or other related information except that he grew up in South Florida. They are presently questioning his family and friends.
The online YouTube video, titled the American martyrdom from al-Nusra Front, surfaced this week and shows the so-called American jihadi ,or freedom fighter, and another person packing a large truck with munitions and purportedly driving toward their destination, where the camera captures a massive explosion. The video was first released through a Twitter message from the Islamist extremist group in Syria.
According to one of the al-Nusra activists, the suicide attack was part of a coordinated action plan targeting four separate Syrian military checkpoints. He claimed in the posted video that Hurayra, the American, had detonated the largest bomb, which contained 17 tons of explosive materials. Along with the video, a photo being circulated online by jihadis from Syria, showing a smiling young man with a blond beard as he holds a cat to his chest, is allegedly that of the suicide bomber, who was from Florida. Speaking to The New York Times, one of the group members said, “I know he was an American, had an American passport and that he was with the Nusra Front.”
The unprecedented attack by an American citizen is raising new concerns for the intelligence community, and is being seen as a game changer in the world of international terrorism. FBI Deputy Director Mark F. Giuliano addressed these concerns on Wednesday and said that the recent movement of militants into Syria was a serious challenge since “…these individuals could be trained to plan and carry out attacks around the world.” Security experts fear that the skills and philosophies learned in Syria could be imported into the borders of the United States.
According to American counterterrorism officials, more than 70 Americans have traveled to Syria to join the fight against Assad. As the Syrian civil war intensifies, American intelligence officials have sent out warnings about efforts by al Qaida and other jihadist groups to recruit and train Americans and other Westerners to carry out attacks when they return home. The intelligence community, including the National Counterterrorism Center and the Homeland Security Department, have created a team of specialists who work to prevent such individuals from returning to the U.S. undetected.
Because of stringent scrutiny, American officials are able to confirm that most of the Americans who traveled to Syria to help the rebels to fight against Assad are still in the country. A few, like the suicide bomber from Florida, have died in Syria. Another recent American life lost in the Syrian battles is that of Nicole Lynn Mansfield, 33, of Flint, Michigan. Mansfield was a convert to Islam who was killed in May 2013 in Idlib province.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay