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Islamic militants claim American carried out suicide attack in Syria

By Hamdi Alkhshali, Salma Abdelaziz, Evan Perez and Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Video shows a recent suicide attack on government troops in northern Syria
  • Radical Islamists: One of the attackers is American, identified as Abu Hurayra
  • U.S. official: Man likely had an American connection, but it's not fully confirmed
  • U.S. officials have expressed concerns about Americans fighting in Syria

(CNN) -- A truck is loaded with munitions, then driven up a hillside in northern Syria. Moments later, there is a massive blast followed by cries of "Allahu Akbar," or God is great in Arabic, as well as the rattling of gunfire.

Suicide bombings like this are not new in war-torn Syria. But what could make this one different is the man who radical Islamists say played a part in pulling it off.

An American.

Abu Farouk al Shamy, a spokesman for the rebel Suqour al-Sham battalion, told CNN the Sunday attack was executed in coordination with the al-Nusra Front, an al Qaeda-linked organization that the U.S. government has blacklisted as a foreign terror organization.

This image was taken during a government guided tour in Mleiha, Syria, one day after Syrian government forces retook the town after a monthslong battle with rebels, according to a military source and state television on Friday, August 15. The United Nations estimates more than 190,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising in March 2011 spiraled into civil war. This image was taken during a government guided tour in Mleiha, Syria, one day after Syrian government forces retook the town after a monthslong battle with rebels, according to a military source and state television on Friday, August 15. The United Nations estimates more than 190,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising in March 2011 spiraled into civil war.
Syrian civil war in 2014
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Photos: Syrian civil war in 2014 Photos: Syrian civil war in 2014
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One video on YouTube, with the title "the American martyrdom from al-Nusra Front," identifies the suicide bomber as Abu Hurayra Al-Amriki. This video and several other social media posts feature a picture of a bearded man with that name, smiling and holding a cat.

The man's full and true identity is not known, and CNN cannot independently verify an American by any name recently died in Syria.

But a U.S. law enforcement official concurs the man likely has an American connection.

It's not known if he might be a U.S. citizen or resident, though. And the official pointed out any identity can't be confirmed until remains are recovered or examined, something that would be difficult, given the size of the explosion.

U.S. concern about Americans fighting in Syria

Syrian activists say the video is from Sunday and shows militants' preparations and ultimate attack on Syrian military checkpoints in Jabal Al-Arba'een, near the city of Ariha in Idlib province and believed to be along a key rebel supply route.

According to Syrian activists and social media postings, four vehicles laden with explosives were part of the attack. One YouTube video says the American detonated the biggest one, which contained 17 tons of explosives, including artillery shells. It is not clear what exactly this man's involvement was, including whether he was driving an armored truck, a tanker or some other vehicle.

Even if he clearly did not act alone, it is the man identified as Abu Hurayra who has gotten a lot of attention on websites and social media venues tied to radical Islamists.

This includes a tweet by a man with the handle Abu Suleiman al-Muhajer, whose bio identifies him as belonging to al Qaeda in the Levant, the umbrella organization for the al-Nusra Front. His tweet, which was published on the radical Islamist website Hanein, features the alleged American's picture and the words, "Abu Hurayra Al-Amriki performed a martyrdom operation in Idlib, Jabal Al-Arba'een. May Allah accept him."

The name Abu Hurayra, which is popular among Sunni Muslims, offers little clue as to the man's identity. Abu Hurayra was a companion of the Islamic prophet Mohammed and the narrator of Hadith.

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Regardless, if his U.S. nationality could somehow be confirmed, it wouldn't be a total surprise.

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials have expressed concerns about Americans joining the fight in Syria, including with groups like the jihadist al-Nusra Front. The worry is that they and other Westerners might pose a threat when they return a home.

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"There's going to be a diaspora out of Syria," FBI Director James Comey said last week. "And we are determined not to let lines be drawn from Syria today to a future 9/11."

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