The State Department confirmed Friday that an American man named Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha launched a suicide bombing against Syrian government troops Sunday, an attack believed to be linked to an Al Qaeda-backed militant group.
Spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed the man's name in a statement to the Associated Press Friday, but did not provide other details. Earlier, Psaki said Abu-Salha was thought to be the first U.S. citizen to be involved in a suicide bombing in Syria's three-year civil war and was also known as “al-Amriki,” which means “the American” in Arabic.
The Miami Herald, citing law enforcement officials, reported Friday that the 22-year-old lived at some point in Fort Pierce, located about 130 miles north of Miami, and played high school basketball in Vero Beach.
Basketball statistics posted on a youth sports website show Abusalha played in 2007 for the Indian River Warriors, a team based in Vero Beach, the Herald reported. Records show his parents have lived there and owned several grocery stores along the Treasure Coast.
The New York Times reported that Abu-Salha is believed to have traveled to Syria late last year, and spent time in a training camp for Nusra Front, a group linked to Al Qaeda.
The officials said they made the identification without any examining any remains, and do not believe much is left of the body due to the nature of the attack.
According to the Times, Abu-Salha used a large truck to help carry out the bombing outside a restaurant in the government-held northwestern city of Idlib.
It's unknown how many people Abu-Salha killed in the bombing. Opposition rebels with Nusra Front said his truck was laden with 16 tons of explosives to tear down the al-Fanar restaurant in Idlib, a gathering site for Syrian troops.
An anti-government activist in Syria told the Times Abu-Salha spoke Arabic poorly, but was dedicated to the jihadist cause.
“He was a generous, brave, tough man, always on the front lines in battles,” the activist said.
He said that when it was time for the American to carry out the suicide attack, he was “was very happy, because he will meet his God after that."
Asaad Kanjo, an opposition activist based in the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province, told the Associated Press 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 to learn 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 Times reported the civil war playing out in the country has attracted multiple Westerners to fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Officials told the paper more than 70 Americans have traveled to the country to fight.
The truck bombing by Abu-Salha was one of four by suicide bombers who attacked over the course of a day in the area in Idlib province.
Fox News' Catherine Herridge, Shayla Bezdrob and The Associated Press contributed to this report.