WASHINGTON — 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 who grew up in Florida and traveled to Syria late last year.
The officials said they believed that 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.
US law enforcement and intelligence agencies made the identification without examining any remains. The size of the blast, which was shown on a video posted online by the Nusra Front, has led the authorities to believe that there is little, if anything, left of the body.
The agencies came to their conclusion after analyzing intelligence from sources in Syria and in foreign governments, and information gleaned from interviews with family members and friends of the bomber in Florida, one official said.
“It’s not like we have a dental makeup,” the official said, referring to how coroners often use teeth to identify a deceased person.
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.
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 the attack occurred during Abusalha’s second visit 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 because of a continuing investigation.
News of the suicide attack surfaced Tuesday in Twitter messages from the Nusra Front, an Islamist extremist group in Syria aligned with Al Qaeda.
US officials have not officially made public the name of Abusalha, who was believed to have been in his 20s or 30s. But Friday at a State Department briefing, a spokesman confirmed that the bomber was a US citizen.
A Syrian fighter from the Nusra Front recalled Abu Huraira 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 as Abu Abdulrahman, and said Abu Huraira was currently in Idlib province, where the bombing took place.
A statement posted online by the Nusra Front said that Abu Huraira 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, Abu Huraira drove a vehicle loaded with 16 tons of explosives to hit 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 Friday that it is easy for US citizens to get in and out of Syria, and that many travel there for humanitarian reasons, presenting a challenge in determining who might be planning to carry out terror attacks in the United States.