Moner Mohammad Abusalha, or Abu Hurayra al-Amriki if you prefer his nom de guerre, has the distinction of being the first American national to blow himself up in the name of Islamic jihad.
Abusalha, 22, trained for weeks with the Syrian al-Nusra Front, a Syrian opposition militant organization publicly allied with al-Qaeda. On May 25, the American jihadist took a truck laden with explosives and drove it to a Syrian army base in Jabal al-Arbaeen where he detonated that device.
Abusalha was just one of several Americans believed to be fighting in the Middle East with a number of fundamentalist militant groups, but he enjoys another distinction that The New York Times revealed on Wednesday: the aspiring American suicide bomber and committed jihadist also managed to travel from that volatile region to the United States undetected.
The Times reassures its readers by noting that Abusalha fortunately “chose to carry out his attack in Syria rather than the United States,” which is nice. But the fact that this American citizen who went to school in the United States was able to train with Syrian militants and travel back to the United States without alerting the authorities is… troubling.
“This incident exemplifies the challenges faced by the FBI in detecting US citizens who seek to travel to Syria to engage in jihad,” a FBI spokesman told The Times.
American officials are still piecing together Mr. Abusalha’s travels within the United States in between those two Syria trips and gathering information about whom he met. Some insight into his time in Syria was contained in a lengthy video released by the Nusra Front on Monday. Mr. Abusalha is shown tearing, biting and burning his American passport, and explaining his reasons for deciding to leave his life for jihad. He said he had gone to Syria from Turkey, where he landed with just $20 in his pocket for a Turkish visa.
Intelligence experts’ public estimates suggest that there are between 2,000 and 3,000 Western nationals and Americans fighting with rebels in Iraq and Syria. In May, The Times warned that over 70 Americans were thought to have traveled to Syria to train with jihadists to carry out attacks.
And now we know that they can, if they like, travel freely to and from the United States.