WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department confirmed Friday that a U.S. citizen from Florida launched a suicide bombing against Syrian government troops earlier this week in what is believed to be the first time an American has been involved in such attacks since the start of the Syrian civil war.
Opposition forces fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad had earlier claimed that Abu Hurayra al-Amriki was, in fact, an American fighter who carried out a May 25 truck bombing outside a restaurant in the government-held northwestern city of Idlib. Al-Amriki means “the American.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday that he was an American. Psaki said it appeared to be the first time an American citizen was involved in a suicide bombing since the start of the three-year civil war in Syria that has killed at least 160,000.
Psaki had no other details. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told reporters in Miami Friday that Al-Amriki is from Florida but did not provide any further details.
It’s unknown how many people al-Amriki killed in the bombing. Opposition rebels with the al-Qaida-linked insurgency al-Nusra Front said his truck was laden with 16 tons of explosives to tear down the al-Fanar restaurant in Idlib, a gathering site for Syrian troops.
Asaad Kanjo, an opposition activist based in the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province, said he heard that al-Amriki arrived in Syria a few months ago and tore up his American passport upon arrival.
Kanjo said even a local commander with the Nusra Front was surprised about al-Amriki, quoting him as saying that people do all they can to try go to the U.S. to get an American passport, and this man came here and got rid of his.
“From what I heard, I believe he was an American of Arab origin. People said that he spoke Arabic with a foreign accent, and he used to speak classical Arabic,” Kanjo said.
He added that al-Amriki was a member of the Nusra Front but was not a commander. “Most probably he came to carry out this attack,” Kanjo said.
The truck bombing by al-Amriki was one of four by suicide bombers who attacked over the course of a day in the area in Idlib province.