Who Was the American Who Died Fighting for ISIS?

Douglas McAuthur McCain is the first American to die in the service of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Reuters

An American man from San Diego has died fighting for the terrorist organization variously known as the Islamic State (IS), ISIS, ISIL, and now QSIS, NBC News first reported.

Douglas McAuthur McCain was killed by fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a U.S.-backed faction opposed to the Assad regime. McCain and two more IS fighters—a small contingent of a larger group of IS militants—ambushed a group of FSA fighters. McCain and his allies killed two FSA fighters; the FSA killed “dozens of ISIS fighters,” including McCain, in turn, The New York Times reported.

Rifling through his pockets afterward, the FSA found “about $800 in cash” and McCain’s American passport, NBC News said. Six of the dead they beheaded. McCain they left untouched, according to The New York Times.

Much of the Douglas McAuthur McCain story remains unclear,” The Washington Post wrote. “It’s unexplained what led him down a path to Islamic radicalization and violence.”

But McCain fits the profile for a jihadist recruit very well, according to an article by Mehdi Hasan for the New Statesman. Jihadist recruits are often young men experiencing “moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, for a sense of belonging and purpose,” Hasan wrote.

McCain attended two different Minneapolis high schools without graduating. He “worked dead end jobs” and “picked up a few petty convictions,” wrote The Washington Post. Misdemeanor theft, misdemeanor marijuana possession, driving without a license: nonviolent offenses, and certainly nothing that would suggest McCain might harbor sympathies for terrorist groups.

But it is precisely this type of young man: “bored, under­employed, overqualified and underwhelmed,” who often turn to Jihad as “a thrilling cause,” Hasan wrote.

McCain’s best friend from high school, Troy Kastigar, also left his home in working-class Minneapolis to wage holy war, NBC News discovered. Kastigar, who came to be known as “Abdurahman the American,” died fighting for al-Shabaab in Mogadishu in 2009. "If you guys only knew how much fun we have, this is the real Disneyland," Kastigar said of his time in Mogadishu, according to the Associated Press.

McCain’s family insisted he was not a terrorist.

But on Twitter, where he went by Duale Khalid, McCain tweeted in support of IS.

We may never know what led Douglas McAuthur McCain to join the group President Obama said "has no place in the 21st century," but he was not the first American to die in service of jihad, and he likely will not be the last.

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