An American citizen died Sunday in a suicide bomb attack in Syria. U.S. officials confirmed with NBC News that the man, who was identified in social media posts as Abu Hurayra al-Amriki, was indeed a U.S. citizen. The officials declined to disclose the man’s American name or where he was from. In Arabic, al-Amriki means “the American.”
Activists who are fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are said to be behind the recent suicide bombing. Videos posted on YouTube depict Hurayra preparing for the attack, loading explosives into an armored vehicle. The attack was part of a coordinated series of four bombings on Syrian military checkpoints. An activist in a video, posted after the bombing, claimed Hurayra detonated the largest explosion and that his vehicle carried 17 tons of explosives, including artillery shells.
“I know he was an American, had an American passport and that he was with the Nusra Front,” one activist told the New York Times during a Skype interview.
The al-Nusra Front is an al-Qaeda-linked organization that opposes the Assad government.
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Late Thursday, CNN reported that two U.S. officials provided further confirmation of Hurayra’s citizenship and did disclose that he grew up in Florida. The officials said the man’s family was being interviewed and again declined to release his name.
The confirmed participation of a U.S. citizen in the Syrian conflict raises new concerns for intelligence officials.
“The recent flood of militants into the country poses a serious challenge, as these individuals could be trained to plan and carry out attacks around the world,” said deputy FBI director, Mark F. Giuliano, on Wednesday.
Seth Jones, a terrorism expert with the RAND Corporation said that an American suicide bomber is a “potential game changer.”
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“It indicates that Americans are honing their ability to conduct terrorist attacks,” Jones said, stoking fears that others could bring home tactics that they have learned in Syria.
American counterterrorism officials say they are aware of more than 70 Americans who have traveled to Syria to join the fight against Assad. The FBI, CIA, National Counterterrorism Center and Homeland Security Department recently put together a team of analysts to prevent such individuals from returning to the U.S. undetected.