The Florida man who killed himself in a suicide bombing in Syria this May says in a new video released Wednesday that he fled to Syria last year because he believed he was under surveillance by the FBI.
Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha also says he was comforted and inspired by the lectures of Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born Islamic cleric who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen three years ago.
On May 25, Abu-Salha drove a massive truck bomb into a restaurant in Jabal Al-Arba'een filled with Syrian government soldiers.
The 22-minute video, billed as "Part 1" of an interview, is the third of Abu-Salha released so far by Islamic militants, who apparently shot the footage at a rebel base camp just before his suicide mission. In a previously released video, he set his U.S. passport on fire.
Abu-Salha, a 22-year-old Palestinian-American, says on the newly released video that when he returned to the U.S. after initial training in Syria in 2012, he was aware of FBI surveillance.
Bilad Al-Sham Media via YouTube
A screen grab from a video of Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha by Bilad Al-Sham Media.
"I went back to my home state, which is Florida," he tells his interviewer, never making eye contact. "I stayed with my friend's family. And it was no good. The reason I had to stay with them is that the state I was in, I finally realized I was being watched." He explains that he fled back to his home state “to throw [the FBI] off, to make them think I was somewhere else in the United States.”
Family members said Abu-Salha, known in Syria as Abu Hurayra al-Ameriki, had traveled to Texas and then returned to Florida in 2013.
Abu-Salha also hints at betrayal by a friend. Law enforcement officials have told NBC News that Abu-Salha tried to recruit some of his Florida friends for Syria's violent revolution and that one of them, who had originally agreed to go with him, had informed on him.
Without identifying the friend, Abu-Salha says that the man had abandoned him at a Florida airport and “showed me at the end what a true person he was, and I forgive him."
Twice in the interview, Abu-Salha says al-Awlaki's lectures, which have been widely circulated among English-speaking radicals, had inspired him on arrival in Syria in 2012. He recounts how he had no money other than $20 for a Turkish visa had been comforted by recalling one of al-Awlaki's lectures.
"I put my [faith] in Allah," he says, "In a lecture, Anwar al-Awlaki said when you make [a journey for jihad] it's like a cliff, jump off the cliff and you don't know if the water is deep or shallow. Don't know if there's rocks or if it’s going to be very deep. You just have to jump and put your faith in Allah that it's going to be deep and you won't be harmed, that you’re going to be safe after you land in the water."
First published August 27 2014, 3:57 PM
Robert Windrem is an investigative reporter/producer with NBC News. His specialty is international security, on-camera commentary on international security for MSNBC and writer on international security for NBCNews.com
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Winner of 45 national journalism awards, including an Emmy as well as Dupont-Columbia, National Press Club, Sigma Delta Chi, three Edward R. Murrow and eight National Headliners Club awards. He has also been nominated for an Emmy 19 times.
Windrem produced the first report on U.S. television on Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda in January 1997; produced the first inside look of CIA Headquarters on U.S. television in February 1994; arranged and produced exclusive interviews with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in New York in September 2006, and in Tehran in July 2008. He also produced extensive reports on "Nightly News" regarding nuclear proliferation in Israel, South Africa, Iraq and Iran as well as reports on the Mexican drug wars; al Qaeda; US drone attacks in Pakistan, the Boston Marathon bombings, the Washington, D.C., snipers; campaign finance scandals, defense procurement abuse, and intelligence technology, among many others.
He contributed to NBC News documentaries on the war on terrorism, Hurricane Katrina and nuclear strategy.
Windrem co-wrote with William E. Burrows, "Critical Mass: the Dangerous Race for Superweapons in a Fragmenting World", Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994.
He has appeared more than 300 times as an expert on national security issues on MSNBC, NBC News and CNBC as well as CBC in Canada, BBC in the UK, Channel 2 in Israel and ABC in Australia. Most recently he served as a consultant on an Israeli TV documentary on Arnon Milchan, the Hollywood producer and arms dealer.
He is a graduate of Seton Hall University with a degree in communications arts. He also pursued a graduate degree in American Studies at Seton Hall.