May 30, 2014
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.
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.
A Facebook profile of a man with the name Moner Abusalha has pictures that appear to be of the same person shown in the photos on jihadist websites. Many images on the page have Arabic writing and quote the Quran. “Verily, with hardship there is relief,” the profile says on one page. The profile also says he likes basketball, football and Eggo waffles.
Public records databases show that Mr. Abusalha has lived in Fort Pierce and in Vero Beach. A youth league website said he played basketball with the Indian River Warriors in 2007.
The records show that at one point he shared an apartment with his brother in Fort Pierce, a city about 130 miles north of Miami. His parents have lived in Vero Beach, and his family owns several grocery stores in the region.
Reached by telephone, a woman named Michelle Abusalha, apparently his mother, hung up on a reporter. His father, Mohammad, declined to comment.
“Sorry, sorry, we can’t do that,” he said.
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.
He and other activists in the area said that fighters with the Nusra Front tended to keep to themselves and stay away from the news media, making it hard for others to gather information about them.
“The Nusra Front is not very interested in media except for releasing what they want to say,” Mr. Assi said.
A statement posted online by the Nusra Front said that the American had been one of four suicide bombers sent to open a rebel assault on government forces near the city of Ariha in northern Syria. On Sunday morning, the statement said, the American drove a vehicle loaded with 16 tons of explosives to attack a mountaintop restaurant where government forces were based. He was followed by three other bombers. Two of them also blew themselves up, and one managed to park his vehicle and retreat before the explosives detonated.
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.
Most of the Americans who have traveled to Syria are still there, officials said, although a few have died in the conflict. Nicole Lynn Mansfield, 33, of Flint, Mich., a convert to Islam, was killed in May 2013 while with Syrian rebels in Idlib Province.
using the number/letter grid:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9
4 1 1 1
his primary challenge (MA), how it appears to the world (Ma), and how he lost his heart’s desire (Ma) all = 41 = Things got ugly. Society harmed.
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learn numerology from numerologist to the world, Ed Peterson: