ERIC SCHMITT & BEN HUBBARD
A United States citizen working in Syria with a militant group backed by al-Qaeda conducted a suicide bombing there Sunday, in what is believed to be the first time an American has been involved in such an attack, American officials said Wednesday.
The suicide attack first surfaced on Tuesday in Twitter messages from the Nusra Front, an Islamist extremist group in Syria aligned with al-Qaeda in the fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
American officials declined to identify the American or provide any information about him. NBC News first reported that American government officials had confirmed the bomber was an American.
Syrian activists and jihadist social media sites reported that the American went by the name Abu Huraira al-Amriki and carried out the suicide truck bombing in the northern province of Idlib.
A photo circulated on jihadist social media accounts showed a smiling young man who was said to be the bomber.
He had a blond beard and was holding a cat to his chest.
Activists also circulated a video that was said to record the attack. It first showed rebels loading what appear to be tank shells into a large vehicle that had been armored with metal plates. In the video, there is a large explosion after the vehicle drives down a road.
An anti-government activist reached through Skype near the bombing site confirmed the attack and said he had seen the American before the bombing but had not spoken to him and did not know where he was from.
“I know that he was an American, had an American passport and that he was with the Nusra Front,” said the activist, who gave only his first name, Ahmed, for the fear of retribution.
Islamic extremist groups in Syria with ties to al-Qaeda have been trying to identify, recruit and train Americans and other Westerners who have traveled there to get them to carry out attacks when they return home, according to senior American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.
These efforts, which the officials say are in the early stages, are the latest challenge that the conflict in Syria has created, not just for Europe but for the United States. The civil war has become a magnet for Westerners seeking to fight with the rebels against the Assad government.
American intelligence and counter-terrorism officials say more than 70 Americans have traveled to Syria, mainly to fight for one of the hundreds of rebel groups combating the Assad government. The FBI, CIA, National Counter-terrorism Center and Homeland Security Department recently created a special team of analysts to try to prevent the American jihadists from returning home undetected. NYT
Who is he?
A US citizen who went by the name Abu Huraira al-Amriki.
Worked for the Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front.
A photo circulated on jihadist.
Social media accounts shows a smiling young man.
He had a blond beard and was snuggling a cat’.
12 killed, 23 injured in the suicide bombing.