WASHINGTON (AP) - An American from Florida launched a suicide bombing against Syrian government troops earlier this week in what is believed to be the first time a U.S. citizen has been involved in such attacks since the start of the Syrian civil war, U.S. officials said Friday.
The man's name is Moneer Mohammad Abu Salha, two U.S. officials said. They were not authorized to speak on the record and requested anonymity in identifying the man.
Earlier Friday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that the suicide bomber was an American but offered no other details. She said he was thought to be the first U.S. citizen to be involved in a suicide bombing in Syria's three-year civil war. At least 160,000 have died in the fighting between government forces and opposition forces seeking the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Opposition forces had identified the man who carried out a May 25 truck bombing outside a restaurant in the government-held northwestern city of Idlib as Abu Hurayra al-Amriki and said he was a U.S. citizen. The name al-Amriki means "the American."
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told reporters in Miami on Friday that the suicide bomber was from Florida but did not provide any further details.
It's unknown how many people died in the bombing. Opposition rebels with the al-Qaida-linked insurgency al-Nusra Front said Abu Salha's truck was laden with 16 tons of explosives to tear down the al-Fanar restaurant in Idlib, a gathering site for Syrian troops.
Asaad Kanjo, an opposition activist based in the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province, said he heard that Abu Salha arrived in Syria a few months ago and tore up his American passport upon arrival.
Kanjo said even a local commander with the Nusra Front was surprised about Abu Salha, quoting him as saying that people do all they can to try go to the U.S. to get an American passport, and this man came here and got rid of his.
"From what I heard, I believe he was an American of Arab origin. People said that he spoke Arabic with a foreign accent, and he used to speak classical Arabic," Kanjo said.
He added that Abu Salha was a member of the Nusra Front but was not a commander. "Most probably he came to carry out this attack," Kanjo said.
The truck bombing was one of four by suicide bombers who attacked over the course of a day in the area in Idlib province.
Karam reported from Beirut, Lebanon. Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Ken Dilanian and Lara Jakes in Washington and Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.