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The Battle for Damascus

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'Humble, Caring' American Jihadi Terrorist Succumbs in Syria

August 27th 2014

Victor McArthur McCain

An American, identified as 33-year old Douglas McArthur McCain, has been killed while fighting alongside militants in Syria. Concerns about foreign fighters joining the ranks of radical groups comes as an American journalist returned to the United States after nearly two years of captivity by militants in Syria.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday U.S. officials are aware of reports of McCain’s death in Syria and made contact with the family.

"As you know, there’s typically a process that needs to be gone through before any confirmation can be made. And, certainly, out of respect for the family, we’re not going to be adding any more comment at this time,” said Psaki.

However, in a statement, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, “We were aware of U.S. citizen Douglas McArthur McCain’s presence in Syria and can confirm his death.”

NBC News reports McCain, of New Hope, Minnesota, was killed Sunday as he took part in an attack on a Syrian opposition checkpoint near Aleppo. NBC reports McCain made his way to Islamic State-controlled territory from Turkey.

Lost identity

McCain’s cousin, Kenyata McCain, described him as a “humble, caring man” who “lost his identity” after becoming involved with Somali Muslims, but doubts he fought alongside IS militants. She said she was in regular contact with her cousin and exchanged messages with him as late as last Friday.

Psaki, at a Tuesday news briefing, was asked how Turkey is monitoring its border and stopping foreign fighters from crossing into Syria.

"Turkey is an important ally of ours and we work closely with them. I’m not going to be assessing anyone’s capabilities from the podium. But, the issue of foreign fighters and the concern of individuals with Western passports or passports that would enable them to travel into countries where they can do harm is certainly at the top of our agenda and the top of the agenda of many countries. That’s one of the reasons the president is going to be chairing a meeting at UNGA (UN General Assembly) about his particular issue," said Psaki.

Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder said he was concerned fighters from Europe and the United States were supporting violent insurgents in Syria and joining forces with Yemeni bomb makers.

U.S. intelligence agencies estimate around 7,000 of the 23,000 violent extremists operating in Syria’s civil war are foreign fighters, mostly from Europe. Australian intelligence chief David Irvine said Wednesday 15 Australians are believed to have died fighting in Syria and Iraq, and that about 60 Australians are fighting with jihadist groups like IS. 

Serious threat

Jonathan Adelman, associate professor at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Relations, said these foreign fighters, with the training they receive, pose a serious threat to Western nations, including the United States.

"The fact that there are these estimated 100 Americans, there’s an estimated 400-500 Brits, there’s several hundred French. There’s about 2,000 Westerners in this (IS) group, plus some non-Westerners who could easily come into the United States and I think this is something that really we have to take very seriously. It isn’t as remote as we thought it was after Osama bin Laden was killed," said Adelman.

Adelman said many of these foreign fighters are being recruited through social media.

"I think for a lot of these kids, and he wasn’t just a kid, he was 33 years old, there’s a level of excitement about this. We’re going to have foreign adventure. We are going to stand up against all the evils of this world. But, it’s frightening. We’re a country of 315 million people. All it’s going to take is a dozen of these people, with the fighting experience they’re getting in Syria and Iraq, and all the training they’re getting, to be able to come in here quite legally, and we’re fairly vulnerable," said Adelman.

Psaki Tuesday acknowledged that threat and said “we’re tracking” that closely “because we think it could pose a threat to us.”

Journalist released

The renewed concern over foreign fighters came as American journalist Peter Theo Curtis returned to the United States from Israel late Tuesday, just two days after being freed from nearly two years captivity at the hands of the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusrah group in Syria.

In a statement, he said he has been touched and moved by the people who welcomed him home. He also thanks U.S. officials and the Qatari government for intervening on his behalf.


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