- By John HudsonJohn Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013.
This week, U.S. officials say an American citizen helped launch a suicide attack against the Syrian government. Jihadist social media accounts circulated images purported to represent the American, who went by the name Abu Huraira al-Amriki. The fact that Amriki appeared to have honed the ability to conduct terrorist attacks in Syria is unsettling for counterrorism experts who fear that more American extremists will pick up the tools of the trade there and then return to the United States to carry out attacks. But what’s also unsettling is the smiling, giggling imagery of Amriki that jihadists are now passing around in his honor:
The above images, provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute, are believed to show Amriki with militants from the Nusra Front, an Islamist extremist group in Syria that is backed by Al Qaeda in its fight against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. When contacted, U.S. intelligence officials did not provide additional information about Amriki or the assault. However, eyewitnesses and activists have provided information to reporters on the ground in recent days.
According to a communique published by the Nusra Front this week, the attack was carried out on May 25 against a Syrian army stronghold near Idlib. It included three truck bombs and one booby trapped vehicle. One of the trucks, carrying 16 tons of explosives, is believed to have been driven by Amriki. A report in today’s New York Times confirmed the attack and the involvement of an American in the incident. “I know he was an American, he had an American passport and that he was with the Nusra Front,” an anti-government activist told the paper. Officials speaking to USA Today say Amriki was likely the assailant, but said efforts are being made to locate his family before an official confirmation.
Earlier this month, FBI Director James Comey said the problem of Americans flocking to Syria to take up jihad was exacerbated in recent months, and constitutes a threat to U.S. personnel and interests. The fear is that Americans teaming up with al-Qaeda affiliated groups will return to the U.S. to conduct terrorist attacks.
“All of us with a memory of the ’80s and ’90s saw the line drawn from Afghanistan in the ’80s and ’90s to Sept. 11,” Comey said, in a wide-ranging interview with reporters. “We see Syria as that, but an order of magnitude worse in a couple of respects. Far more people going there. Far easier to travel to and back from. So, there’s going to be a diaspora out of Syria at some point and we are determined not to let lines be drawn from Syria today to a future 9/11.”
A video of the attack appears bellow: