U.S. officials have reported that an American man has been killed in Syria. It was believed that he traveled there to fight for an extremist militant group. Officials believe the group is most likely the Islamic State.
ABC News reported that according to an official, who asked to remain anonymous, investigators were aware that Douglas McCain was in the country to fight with the militant group. However, they have not received his body and are still attempting to obtain information about his death.
McCain’s uncle, Kenneth, stated he and his family were informed by the State Department via phone call about his nephew’s death. “We do not know if he was fighting anyone,” he said.
That McCain had become a jihadi left his family “devastated” and “just as surprised as the country,” said Kenneth. He described the man he knew as “a good person, loved his family, loved his mother, loved his faith.” McCain was a practicing Christian before he converted.
A cousin, Kenyata McCain, stated she had spoken to McCain last Friday and “he was telling all of us he was in Turkey.” She also said, “I know that he had strong Muslim beliefs, but I didn’t know that he was in support of ISIS. I didn’t think he would be.”
Officials have not confirmed when McCain left the country to travel to Syria. Although he recently lived in San Diego, he grew up in New Hope, a town just outside Minneapolis.
According to The Boston Herald, U.S. officials, concerned about what they say is the growing threat posed by the extremist Islamic State group, have stated that surveillance flights and spy planes have begun over Syria on the orders of President Barack Obama. This could be in preparation for airstrikes against the group. The militant group also killed American journalist James Foley and is holding an American woman hostage.
U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials have expressed concern about the influence of hard-line jihadists who are among the rebels seeking to overtake Syrian President Bashar Assad. The UK SAS has joined with the U.S. Special Forces to create a taskforce with the goal of overthrowing the group.
Back in June, FBI Director James Comey stated that approximately 100 people in the U.S. have left to join the conflict in Syria. According to ABC News, Comey said the terrorism threat of today “has spread, metastasized. The traveler problem makes it even more difficult, because the people going to Syria are not from any particular demographic. They’re not from any particular part of the United States.”
E.K. Wilson, spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Investigations, said agents are investigating reports that several young men have left the Minneapolis region to travel overseas to areas that include Syria.
“We have done extensive outreach recently, as we have the last seven years, but we’ve had a concerted effort over the last few months,” he said.
CNN World reported that Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, who held high ranks in the State and Defense Departments in President George W. Bush’s administration, said he expects more incidents like McCain’s.
“The ability to travel into these countries demonstrates how porous the borders are,” Kimmitt said. “I think we need to understand that there’s going to be more of this rather than less of this.”
The Islamic State has a reputation for being vicious and defiant, using any means to reach its objectives. Even the general command for al Qaeda, responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, have disowned the group. It has been reported that they blame them for the disaster that afflicted the Jihad in Syria. However, the group continues to thrive, persistently taking over more territory in Syria and Iraq.
“They are beyond just a terrorist group,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week. “They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. This is beyond anything we have seen, and we must prepare for everything.”
These preparations will include keeping track of U.S. residents like McCain. U.S. officials are concerned about the possibility of them bringing back the mind-set of the terror that the Islamic State is known for.