An American citizen linked to an Al Qaeda-affiliated group in Syria carried out a suicide bombing Sunday, the militants said in a statement, adding to fears that Americans might be joining the ranks of the extremists there in increasing numbers.
The Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's branch in Syria, issued a statement saying that the American identified only by the nom de guerre of Abu Hurayrah al-Amreeki -- Abu Hurayrah the American -- had taken part in "martyr operations targeting centers" of the Syrian government in a fiercely contested area of Idlib province near the Turkish border.
According to the statement, Abu Hurayrah set off 16 tons of explosives loaded onto a truck that he drove into a checkpoint in the strategic Mount 40 area. The attack was part of a joint operation between Nusra Front and the Suqoor Al-Sham brigades that involved two other bomb-filled trucks and an armored vehicle, the statement said, with fighters dispatched afterward to kill any survivors.
A video that surfaced on Youtube purports to show the preparations of the vehicles as well as the moment Abu Hurayrah's truck blew up, sending a shock wave and a plume of smoke high into the air. Pictures were also posted of a smiling bearded man, presumably Abu Hurayrah, cuddling a cat.
The statement and the video content could not be independently verified.
The attack comes as the Obama administration is reevaluating its support for the rebels in Syria, with concerns about the growing dominance of Islamist groups spearheading the fight against the government.
"As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases," said President Obama in his commencement speech at West Point on Wednesday. "In helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos."
Obama also said he will work with Congress to "ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators" while sending more aid to regional players such as Jordan and Lebanon that have been affected by the Syrian civil war.
In a statement released Wednesday by the Washington Institute, a think tank, the deputy director of the FBI made reference to "several U.S. persons" having traveled or attempted to travel to Syria to fight, though other U.S. officials have estimated the number to be as high as 70.
"The recent flood of militants into the [Syria conflict] poses a serious challenge, as these individuals could be trained to plan and carry out attacks around the world," Deputy Director Mark F. Giuliano wrote. "Given the prolonged nature of the Syrian conflict, the FBI remains concerned that U.S. persons will continue to be attracted to the region and may attempt to travel to Syria to participate in the conflict."