WASHINGTON — An American who blew himself up in an attack in Syria on Sunday has been identified by law-enforcement officials as Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, a man in his early 20s who grew up in Florida and traveled to Syria last year.
The officials said they believed Abu-Salha, who adopted the nom de guerre Abu Hurayra al-Amriki — Abu Hurayra the American — 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.
His identity was confirmed Friday night by the State Department. U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence agencies made the identification without examining any remains.
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The size of the blast, which was shown on a video clip posted online by the Nusra Front, has led the authorities to believe there is little, if anything, left of the body.
Without the body, the agencies came to their conclusion after analyzing intelligence from human sources in Syria and in foreign governments, and information gleaned from interviews with relatives and friends of the bomber in Florida, one official said.
A Facebook profile of a man with the same name has pictures that appear to be of the same person shown in 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 Abu-Salha had 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.
Abu-Salha had been among several dozen Americans on the radar of federal law-enforcement officials because of past trips to Syria.
One law-enforcement official said authorities believed the attack occurred during the second visit that Abu-Salha made to Syria to fight alongside Islamist militants who are battling the government of President Bashar Assad. He had been in Syria since late last year, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
News of the suicide attack surfaced Tuesday in Twitter messages from the Nusra Front, an Islamist extremist group in Syria aligned with al-Qaida. A photo circulating on jihadist social-media accounts this week, purportedly of the bomber, showed a smiling, bearded young man holding a cat.
Activists also posted a video said to show the bombing 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. It was not known how many people were killed in the attack. A Syrian fighter from the Nusra Front recalled that Abu-Salha, 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 in Idlib province, where Abu-Salha died Sunday.
“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 said via Facebook.
Intelligence and law-enforcement officials said Friday that it was easy for U.S. 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.
“It’s trying to identify those individuals who have violent intent,” said Andrew McCabe, a senior FBI official. “That, quite frankly, is not easy.”