News / Middle East

    Details Emerge About Douglas McCain, American Jihadist Killed in Syria

    Douglas McAuthur McCain appears in a 2008 photo provided by the Hennepin County, Minn., Sheriff's Office.
    Douglas McAuthur McCain appears in a 2008 photo provided by the Hennepin County, Minn., Sheriff's Office.
    VOA News

    Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first known American to be killed while fighting alongside Islamic militants in Syria, was an undistinguished 33-year-old raised in Minnesota who most recently worked as a caregiver in California.

    So what compelled him to leave for the Middle East this spring and to take up arms on behalf of religious extremists?

    The U.S. National Security Council confirmed McCain's death on Tuesday. The State Department said U.S. officials had been in contact with McCain's family.

    The issue of Americans joining radical forces in places like Syria, getting training and even indoctrination in terrorist ideology, has pushed to the forefront concern among U.S. officials, who fear one or more might try to return and commit terrorist acts on American soil.

    McCain had reportedly made his way from the United States to Turkey, and then into territory controlled by the Islamic State, the radical organization that has swept through northern Iraq terrorizing many with its brutal version of Islamic law. Over the weekend, McCain took part in an attack on a Syrian opposition checkpoint near Aleppo, according to NBC News, which first reported the story.

    Rebels in the Free Syrian Army, one of groups fighting the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, retaliated, killing McCain. They beheaded six other Islamic State fighters, but not McCain, and posted photos on Facebook, NBC reported, attributing the information to the rebel army. The rebels reportedly found McCain with his U.S. passport and $800 in his pocket.

    Douglas McCain is shown with an unidentified woman in an undated photo retrieved from his Facebook account.Douglas McCain is shown with an unidentified woman in an undated photo retrieved from his Facebook account.
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    Douglas McCain is shown with an unidentified woman in an undated photo retrieved from his Facebook account.
    Douglas McCain is shown with an unidentified woman in an undated photo retrieved from his Facebook account.

    The FBI also is investigating. The bureau's field office in Minneapolis for almost a decade has looked into the cases of several young Somali-Americans joining the terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia.

    E.K. Wilson, spokesman for the field office, told The Associated Press: "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" involving travel to Syria.

    On a watch list

    U.S. officials said McCain's posts to Facebook, Twitter and other social media had put him on a watch list for international flights.

    "We continue to use every tool we possess to disrupt and dissuade individuals from traveling abroad for violent jihad and to track and engage those who return," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. 

    Thousands of foreign fighters have flooded into Syria in recent years, joining rebel groups, of which many are far more radical than the Free Syria Army. Most of the fighters are Europeans. The FBI and other U.S. officials estimate anywhere from several dozen to more than 100 Americans have gone to fight in Syria.

    Australian intelligence chief David Irvine said Wednesday that 15 Australians are believed to have died fighting in Syria and Iraq, and that about 60 Australians are fighting with jihadist groups such as IS.  

    The U.S. government's "largest concern is the regional and even global aspirations" of the Islamic State," said Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby.

    "Obviously, we’re concerned about Americans that become attracted," Kirby said. If they join forces with a terrorist group, they become enemies of the state, he said: "They take on those actions at their own peril."

    Lost identity

    McCain was born in Illinois and raised in the Minneapolis suburb of New Hope, where he attended Robbinsdale Cooper High School. He ran into some trouble with the law, with convictions for theft, drug possession, disorderly conduct and driving after his license had been revoked, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.    

    Later, he moved to San Diego, California, as did his mother and a sister. McCain worked for a Somali-operated African Spice market, now closed, and attended a local community college. He also had a daughter, almost 1 year old, family members told the Star Tribune.

    According to McCain's social media accounts, which were taken down Tuesday, he converted from Christianity to Islam in 2004.

    "I will never look back the best thing that ever happened to me," he tweeted in May. He identified himself on Facebook as "Duale ThaslaveofAllah" and on Twitter as Duale Khalid, "iamthetooth."

    A selection of Twitter posts, reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune, reflect McCain's changing attitudes and circumstances.

    A screen grab from Douglas McAuthur McCain's Facebook pageA screen grab from Douglas McAuthur McCain's Facebook page
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    A screen grab from Douglas McAuthur McCain's Facebook page
    A screen grab from Douglas McAuthur McCain's Facebook page

    In December 2012, he tweeted that the film "The Help" – about black maids working for white families in Mississippi in the 1960s – was "starting to make me hate white people."

    Along with racist and sexist views, the posts show McCain's enthusiasm for basketball, rap music and, especially, his faith.

    "To all my Muslim out there stand strong we will soon be 1... In sha Allah," he tweeted in May.

    McCain’s cousin, Kenyata McCain, described him as a "humble, caring man" who "lost his identity" after becoming involved with Somali Muslims in the Minneapolis area. Minnesota has the country's largest community of Somalis, with an estimated 32,000 people of that ancestry. 

    "I know that he had strong Muslim beliefs," the cousin told the Star Tribune, "but I didn't know that he was in support of ISIS [an earlier acronym for the Islamic State]. I didn't think he would be." 

    Minnesota Public Radio also reported that, from McCain's Facebook page, it appears he knew Abdirahman Muhumed, "a Minneapolis man who went to Syria and joined the Islamic State."

    Muhumed had posted a photo of himself holding a rifle and a Qur'an, eliciting negative responses from Facebook "friends," MPR said. But McCain, in a Feb. 19 post, encouraged Muhumed to "continue protecting our brothers and sisters."

    Kenyata McCain said she was in regular contact with her cousin and exchanged messages with him as recently as last Friday. "He was telling all of us he was in Turkey," she told the Star Tribune.

    Government Responses

    State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the threat of terrorism by people training with religious extremists is a priority for policymakers in the U.S. and other Western nations.

    "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," she said at a briefing Tuesday.

    FILE - U.S. Attorney General Eric HolderFILE - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
    x
    FILE - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
    FILE - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

    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.

    In July, FBI Director James B. Comey addressed an international law enforcement conference in Miami, saying he was "especially concerned about Syria."

    "Syria serves as a breeding ground, a training ground, and a networking ground for thousands of jihadis all over the world," he said. "They have gone there in huge numbers to join the fight with groups like al Nusra or ISIL. The going is very worrisome. It is the coming out that worries me even more.

    "We’re trying to build effective relationships with the private sector and our government partners," Comey said. "We are trying to train so we learn to play well. We are engaged in simulations that as best we can are intended to duplicate what we face in real life."

    Serious threat

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

    He estimated roughly 100 Americans, between 400 to 500 British citizens and several hundred French are among the 2,000 Westerners fighting on behalf of the Islamic State.

    "I think this is something that really we have to take very seriously," Adelman said. The threat "isn’t as remote as we thought it was after Osama bin Laden was killed."

    Many of these foreign fighters are being recruited through social media, he said.

    "I think for a lot of these kids ... 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,' " Adelman said. "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."

    Three types of people are most susceptible to involvement with terrorist organizations, according to Clifford May, a national security specialist and president of the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracy: sociopaths, those searching for meaning, and highly educated people with a misguided sense of mission.

    The last category, he said, includes the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He claims to hold a doctorate from Islamic University in Baghdad and degrees in Islamic studies and history. Al-Baghdadi, for whom the U.S. has offered a $10 million bounty, "believes that Americans don’t deserve the power they wield" and is willing to take it by force, May said.

    May speculated McCain might be one of "what you might call ‘lost boys’ who are desperate for meaning and a transcendent cause."

    Journalist released

    The renewed concern over foreign fighters came as American journalist Peter Theo Curtis returned to the United States 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, Curtis thanked U.S. officials and the Qatari government for intervening on his behalf.

    VOA's Victor Beattie, Mike Eckel and Carol Guensburg contributed to this report. Some information was provided by the Associated Press and Reuters.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 2
        Next 
    by: Anonymous
    August 28, 2014 11:33 PM
    Who is responsible for the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS?

    There is NO doubt, it is 100% the "Freinds of Syria", led by the Commander in chief Barak Hussein Obama. What a misguided leader he is!!!

    Now the "ISIS chickens have come home to roost"!

    by: Adios from: MN
    August 28, 2014 1:30 PM
    This summarizes the portrait of a loser: McCain ran into some trouble with the law, with convictions for theft, drug possession, disorderly conduct and driving after his license had been revoked, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. Kenyata McCain said she was in regular contact with her cousin and exchanged messages with him as recently as last Friday. "He was telling all of us he was in Turkey," she told the Star Tribune. So it appears that he was a liar right to the end.

    What every traitorous loser needs to understand: “If they join forces with a terrorist group, they become enemies of the state, he said: "They take on those actions at their own peril." So bury this American traitor in an unmarked grave somewhere in the desert and never think about him, or those who do likewise, again.

    by: Clayton Bigsby from: Waco, Texas
    August 27, 2014 9:04 PM
    Does this include....

    by: DSmith from: New York
    August 27, 2014 5:14 PM
    Any US citizen or resident who leaves to fight as part of an extremist group like ISIS should be denied reentry to the US. Joining the cause of the "worst humans on earth" should disqualify you from future residence here.

    by: dboz555 from: U.S.A.
    August 27, 2014 10:17 AM
    Why are you honoring this man by posting his eulogy? He is a murderer and a traitor to freedom. Let him go to his death an unknown and unnamed terrorist.

    by: tom from: Chicago
    August 27, 2014 9:47 AM
    This article is an advertisement for Americans that want to join ISIS.
    In Response

    by: Lol
    September 04, 2014 5:53 AM
    Lol like KKK, Gangs now join jihadi terror by ISIS.

    by: Sunny Enwerem from: Lagos Nigeria
    August 27, 2014 7:25 AM
    Their should be no respect for who ever supports or fights along side terrorist ,with all due respect to the family if they fail to denounce his actions then his body should not be respected after all those that were killed by him and his fellow terrorist fighters bodies were not respected accordingly,this will only prove as a lesson that when they go and fight in a foreign land their bodies will never come back to their families.

    by: RD from: Colorado
    August 27, 2014 6:35 AM
    Sooner or later the christian world will have to simply neutralize these extremists nations with out attempting to sort them out good from bad.
    In Response

    by: Mark from: Virginia
    August 27, 2014 10:39 PM
    Do I smell another Crusade...?

    by: Lewis Gilbert Koerner from: Rome, Ittaly
    August 27, 2014 6:24 AM
    Any Human being ever having spent some time living in Muslim countries is well aware of the danger.

    by: Igor from: Russia
    August 27, 2014 4:55 AM
    The Pentagon already has started surveillance flights over Syria to track the movements of the Islamic State. It is the clear violation of Syria's sovereignty because the US does it without pemission from Syria and the US plane may become targets for Syrian air defence systems. Before we walk into one's house, we must ask the owner for pemission I cannot understand why such a superpower as the USA can behave in an uneducated manner. The only explanation is that they think they are number one so they do not need to be polite and they can act as a pirate.
    In Response

    by: Jack savage from: Texas
    August 29, 2014 11:30 AM
    If the govt. or the people of Syria were worthy of respect they would get it. The govt consists of a murdering thug that is willing to kill anyone that tries to interfere with his position of power and the rebels consists of racist thugs that are no better than the members of the KKK were when they had power in the US. They are going where ever they can find the easiest targets to rob rape and take over the real estate and claim it as their own as if the world is here to serve them
    In Response

    by: Nguyen Hoa from: Vietnam
    August 27, 2014 9:15 PM
    Igor, you are compeletly right. The US is the number 1 in terms of economy and military. But the US is not ranked No1 in education and civilization. So their uneducated manner is understandable. The US have invaded so many countries on Earth from Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Cuba, Iraq, Afganistan, Lybia... The US have been instigating hatred , resentment in many other countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe (the latest ones are Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Egypt...) The US have made much more war crimes than any other countries have done. But The US is always getting away with their crimes because they are No 1 in military and economy. The US has much more enemies than any other countries including Germany and Japan in WWII. The president of the USA is the less educated one among presidents of other countries because he is always considering himself King of the Globe and can do whatever he wants.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    August 27, 2014 10:09 AM
    Hey Igor from Russia... Is it possible that those US spy planes and killer drones got lost over Syria, like those Russian paratroopers got lost in Ukraine? The US is still arming and training the foreign Sunni Muslim ultra-extremists in Jordan and Turkey to wage war on the Shia Muslim government of Assad, (and they haven't any reason to fight Syria), but they want to kill Shia Muslims, don't they?.... The US and NATO oppose Assad because they said he killed innocent protesters, but the US provided the weapons to Israel to kill thousands of innocent civilians?.. CRAZY how the US see's things, isn't it?
    In Response

    by: Petro from: Ukraine
    August 27, 2014 10:03 AM
    Igor from Russia, I will send an email to Obama to ask for an explanation and you do the same with Putin. Then we will compare notes and see which has a better reason for not respecting other countries' boarders. I am willing to guess going after ISIL is a better reason than restoring mother Russia's greatness.
    In Response

    by: CCD from: Virginia
    August 27, 2014 10:00 AM
    You're from Russia. The country that has just stolen a part if the Ukraine and is trying for more. Be quiet.
    In Response

    by: ShuMot from: Brooklyn, USA
    August 27, 2014 9:25 AM
    Igor, either stop your propaganda or get your facts straight. Another thing you should do is look at your own country and what it's doing in Ukraine.
    In Response

    by: George from: USA
    August 27, 2014 7:59 AM
    USA does not want to annex Syria! But you created and fueling conflict in Ukraine in order to annex much more than Crimea!
    In Response

    by: Harry Balz from: America
    August 27, 2014 7:45 AM
    Funny you mention walking into one's house and must ask the owner for permission...and how you cannot understand why a superpower as the USA can behave in such a manner.

    Being Russian, I would think you would have a FULL understanding about how a superpower can invade a sovereign nations territory and claim it for one's self.

    Get back with me when you have something constructive to post, moron!
    In Response

    by: Sanya Aina from: Nigeria
    August 27, 2014 7:15 AM
    You must be part of the enemy of peace in the world just like the Isis. Did the Isis get permission before crossing borders and killing people for sane reason yet you didn't criticize them. The US has the backing of all peace loving citizens of the world to do what is necessary to stop murders like Isis
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    August 27, 2014 6:50 AM
    Blow me igor. Get your tanks and civilian plane downing thugs out of Ukraine. ISIS and Syria are our national concerns.
    In Response

    by: mstrdiver
    August 27, 2014 6:44 AM
    Has anyone from the Syrian Government coordinated or approved these overflights? Do you know? If not, how can you throw stones over something that is only your opinion right now? It seems to me that you have an axe to grind without all of the facts at hand.
    In Response

    by: brenda from: u.s.a.
    August 27, 2014 6:31 AM
    Yes, Igor. Like Russia did in Crimea and Ukraine. Glass houses, buddy...
    In Response

    by: Uh huh from: The World
    August 27, 2014 6:21 AM
    Hi Igor from Russia. How is that Ukraine thing working out for you?
    In Response

    by: Joe Stalin from: Kermlin grounds
    August 27, 2014 6:18 AM
    Thats right Igor
    Comments page of 2
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