The suicide bomber who was involved in an attack in the northern Syrian province of Idlib on Sunday has been confirmed to be an American citizen, identified as Moner Mohammad Abusalha. This is believed to be the first time that an American has been involved in such an incident in the three-year-old conflict.
Jabhat al-Nusra, a group known to be linked to al-Queda, posted a video this week showing Abusalha, a 22-year-old Florida man, packing a large truck with shells. The video then shows a massive explosion in the Idlib countryside along with a photograph of a man believed to be Abusalha, who is holding a kitten in the picture. Jabhat al-Nusra released a statement saying that the suicide bomber attack was part of four coordinated suicide bombings in which a Syrian and two other foreign fighters participated. The bombings targeted government positions.
Family friend Orlando Taylor said that he considered Abusalha a deeply religious, peaceful figure, who was a “real activist.” Taylor said Abusalha was a “full Muslim,” who attended services at a mosque in Orlando, spoke in tongues, and sang the Koran. Taylor said he never heard him express extremist or violent views, and that he seemed like a regular person, very nice and respectful.
As far as Abusalha’s family knew he was in Jordan. He emailed at one point saying he was there for a good cause and doing good things. American counter terrorism agencies knew that he had crossed into Syria, but did not known what he was doing there, or of his associations with al-Qaeda, until an online martyrdom video that he appeared in last week.
Some U.S. counter terrorism officials were relieved that the American had carried out his suicide bomber attack in Syria, and not in the United States. The bombing was seen by officials as evidence that Jabhat al-Nusra is not taking the opportunity to launch a plot against the West with an American recruit, but rather that they are focused on ousting Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.
As many as a dozen Americans who have traveled to Syria since the war began have been watched since returning to the United States, as concerns increase that Syria is becoming the training ground for militants who will return home ready to carry out attacks. Preventing that from happening has become a top priority with the FBI, and several people have been charged with attempting to support terrorism in Syria. However, since the American suicide bomber was not known to be linked to any terrorist plots, or of ever having spoken of violence toward the U.S., there would most likely have been no cause to detain him if he had tried to return.
Abusalha was known in Syria by the name Abu Huraira al-Amriki, or “the American.” A Syrian fighter said that Abu Huraira al-Amriki was an Arab-American who spoke poor Arabic, but was dedicated to the jihadist cause. The fighter said that when the American man’s turn came to carry out the suicide bombing in Syria he was very happy because he would meet his God after that.
By Beth A. Balen