An Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham fighter who identified himself as Abu Muhammad al Amriki (“the American”) was featured in a video released yesterday on YouTube and distributed by jihadist forums [watch the full video, below]. Abu Muhammad, who speaks with accented English and appears to be fluent in Arabic, explained the reason for his defection from the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, and why he subsequently joined the ISIS, which was recently denounced by Al Qaeda General Command.
Abu Muhammad is videotaped in front of an ISIS flag and what appears to be a large map of a town. From the SITE Intelligence Group’s summary of the video:
Speaking in English, Abu Muhammad indicated that he had lived in the United States for 10-11 years before departing to Syria for jihad, and that he had served under Saifullah al Shishani, a now-deceased Chechen commander in the al Qaeda affiliated Al Nusrah Front, and left Al Nusrah. He spoke at length about an issue where weapons were being taken from his area of Atma, a town in Syria’s Idlib governorate near the Syria-Turkey border, and allegedly being given to fighters to strike the ISIS.
It is unclear if Abu Muhammad is an American citizen or merely lived in the country without obtaining citizenship. His nom de guerre indicates that he self-identifies as an American. US officials in the FBI, Department of Justice, and the State Department who were contacted by The Long War Journal said that they are currently investigating to determine if Abu Muhammad is an American citizen.
Abu Muhammad appears to be detailing the ousting of the ISIS from Atma that is described in this article from Asharq Al Awsat. He claimed he was an emir in Atma. The Al Nusrah Front confirmed the death of Saifullah al Shishani [the Chechen], Abu Muhammad’s former commander in the Al Nusrah Front, this week. Saifullah himself defected from the ISIS last year.
Americans are known to fight in Syria against the Assad regime, and most are thought to join the Al Nusrah Front, the ISIS, or Islamist groups such as the brigades in the Islamic Front. On Feb. 4, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, told Congress that more than 50 Americans are thought to be waging jihad in Syria, and are among 7,500 foreign fighters in the country.
The most infamous American to have fought in Syria is Eric Harroun, who fought with the Al Nusrah Front, and then turned himself in to US officials while in Turkey. Harroun later pled guilty to a weapons charge and was sentenced to time served.
Other known American jihadists include Amiir Farouk Ibrahim, who was born in Pennsylvania on Oct. 30, 1980, according to his passport, which was found in an ISIS safe house last year. Ibrahim is thought to have been killed last year.
Nicole Lynn Mansfield, an American from Flint, Mich., was killed in May 2013. She fought for Ahrar al Sham, an Islamist brigade that is part of the Islamic Front. One of Ahrar al Sham’s top leaders is also a senior al Qaeda leader and the personal representative to Ayman al Zawahiri in Syria.