Why are Over 100 Americans Fighting Alongside Extremist Groups Like ISIS in Syria?

A Facebook profile picture purportedly shows American Douglas McCain, reported to have died in the Syrian conflict. (Facebook)
A Facebook profile picture purportedly shows American Douglas McCain, reported to have died in the Syrian conflict. (Facebook)

In addition to the American rapper from Minneapolis recently killed in the bloody fighting in Syria, nearly a dozen former residents of Minnesota’s Twin Cities have left their homes to take up arms with extremist rebel groups in the Middle Eastern nation, U.S. officials told ABC News.

Earlier this week the White House confirmed the death in Syria of Minnesotan Douglas McAuthur McCain, who records show was born in Chicago but was schooled in Minneapolis. An opposition group in Syria, the Free Syrian Army, claimed McCain was fighting with ISIS, a brutal terrorist organization that recently executed American journalist James Foley on camera. The FSA also claimed another American ISIS member had been killed in recent fighting.

Representatives for several U.S. agencies said they could not confirm that a second American had been killed, but there are scores of U.S. nationals in the line of fire. Other top U.S. officials have previously said more than 100 Americans have joined the fighting in Syria – nearly a dozen of them from the Twin Cities alone, as two U.S. law enforcement officials told ABC News Thursday. And a community leader said at least one who left for Syria recently is a teenage girl.

Kyle Loven, the FBI’s Chief Division Counsel in Minneapolis, said residents traveling to Syria is a “relatively recent dynamic,” but still only an “evolution” of young disaffected Minnesotans leaving their homes to fight and die with extremist groups abroad.

“The phenomenon began in 2007 with the young Somali men traveling from Minnesota to Somalia,” Loven said. “In Somalia, it started as a nationalistic call… [but] we’ve now seen where some individuals perhaps are not interested or not inclined to travel to Somalia, [they] start to branch out to other hot spots around the globe, obviously Syria being among them.”

The problem of Americans from Minneapolis traveling to Somalia to join the al Qaeda group al-Shabab became such a concern to U.S. officials that the Justice Department launched the multi-year law enforcement mission Operation Rhino, dedicated to investigating “a pipeline that supplies men” from Minneapolis to Somalia. The effort, which tracked some 20 suspected American jihadists, resulting in the conviction of several American ex-al-Shabab members.

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ABC News

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