For the first time in the bloody civil war tearing the country apart, an American citizen carried out a suicide bombing in Syria.
American law enforcement and counterterrorism officials confirmed the report to NBC News on Wednesday.
The first reports of the incident came on Tuesday from the al-Nusra Front’s Twitter page, which referred to “Abu Hurayra al-Amriki,” or Abu Hurayra the American. “Abu Hurayra al-Amriki performed a martyrdom operation in Idlib, Jabal al-Arba’een. May Allah accept him,” the al-Qaeda linked group tweeted out.
Photos from the group show the young man wearing a suicide vest and sitting on the ground. Another tweet shows a smiling, bearded young man holding a kitten.
Abu Hurayra Al-Amriki Performed a martydom operation in Idlib, Jabal Al-Arba’een. May Allah accept him pic.twitter.com/MeewywKqDD
— أبو سليمان المهاجر (@abusulayman321) May 27, 2014
Some jihadi forums suggested the bomber was of Palestinian descent.
Three Americans carried out suicide attacks in Somalia between 2009 and 2011, but this would be the first in Syria.
US President Barack Obama said Wednesday the United States would increase assistance to the Syrian opposition, opening the way for the likely training and possibly equipping of moderate rebels fighting to oust leader Bashar Assad.
In a speech at the US Military Academy at West Point, Obama framed the situation in Syria as a counterterrorism challenge and said it would be the centerpiece of a new focus on battling violent extremism even as Assad’s removal is a priority.
“In helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we also push back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos,” Obama told the graduating cadets.
“I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and a brutal dictator,” he said.
His remarks were immediately hailed by the Syrian Opposition Coalition, which said in a statement it “appreciates American support to the Syrian people in their struggle against the Assad regime.”
Administration officials said the proposed mission would be aligned with, but not necessarily part of a new $5 billion counterterrorism initiative that Obama announced in his speech.
The officials said they would seek congressional authorization for the program because it might require invoking the War Powers Act.
The Senate Armed Services Committee last week passed a bill that authorizes the Defense Department to provide training and equipment elements of the Syrian opposition that have been screened. It is unclear when the bill may be considered by the full Senate or the House of Representatives.
Under the planned initiative, the US would send a limited number of American troops to Jordan to be part of a regional training mission that would instruct carefully screened members of the Free Syrian Army on weapons handling and tactics, officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss administration deliberations by name.
AP contributed to this report.