WASHINGTON (AP/ABC News) -- A Chicago-born jihadist has been killed while fighting in Syria, the White House told ABC News, purportedly for the terrorist group ISIS.
Douglas McAuthur McCain, a 33-year-old rapper, was among several ISIS militants the Free Syrian Army claimed on Twitter had been killed over the weekend in fighting for the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said the administration was “aware” McCain was in Syria and “can confirm” his death.
A relative, Kenneth McCain, told The Associated Press that the State Department called to tell his family that Douglas McCain had been killed in Syria.
U.S. officials, concerned about what they say is the growing threat posed by the Islamic State group, say surveillance flights and spy planes have begun over Syria on the orders of President Barack Obama. The move could pave the way for airstrikes against the group, which controls a large part of eastern Syria and crossed into Iraq earlier this year. The militant group also killed an American, journalist James Foley, and is holding an American woman hostage, seeking a $6.6 million ransom.
It was unclear when McCain, who had most recently lived in San Diego according to public records, traveled to Syria. He grew up outside Minneapolis in the Minnesota town of New Hope.
A cousin, Kenyata McCain, said that she had spoken to McCain as recently as last Friday and "he was telling all of us he was in Turkey."
"I know that he had strong Muslim beliefs," she said. "But I didn't know that he was in support of ISIS. I didn't think he would be."
A Twitter feed attributed to Douglas McCain says that he converted to Islam a decade ago, which he called it the “best thing that ever happened to [him].” In June, the account retweeted another ISIS supporter who said, “It takes a warrior to understand a warrior. Pray for ISIS.”
More than a decade ago, Douglas McCain shared a Minnesota home address with a classmate, Troy Kastigar. A young man by the same name reportedly was killed in 2009 in Somalia while fighting with an al Qaeda group there. On Facebook in 2013, McCain paid tribute to Kastigar.
At an apartment complex in New Hope, Minn., Shelly Chase remembered McCain as a friendly boy who welcomed her 9-year-old son, Isaac, when the Chase family moved in some two decades ago. Even though McCain was a few years older, the boys used to lift weights, hit punching bags and play basketball.
Both Shelly Chase and her son, now 28, fought back tears as they talked about McCain.
"I'm holding in the tears, I really am, because this is hard. He was a good kid," Shelly Chase said. "Someone must have persuaded him."
Isaac Chase said he had always looked up to McCain. Chase joined the military in 2007, and said before he left, he knew McCain was running into trouble, sometimes smoking marijuana at the park. Minnesota criminal courts records show McCain had a few minor traffic offenses, including two instances where he was convicted of giving police a false name or ID.
"I don't know if he was just lost or what," Isaac Chase said. "He was a good person at heart."
He said he last talked to McCain in 2008 when he was home on leave. McCain told Isaac he was proud of him, and he was trying to straighten out his own life, Isaac Chase said.
U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials have expressed concern about the influence of hard-line jihadists who are among the rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. Officials say fighters from the U.S. or Europe looking to join the cause could become radicalized and import those influences and terrorist skills when they return home.
U.S. officials have estimated more than 12,000 foreign fighters have joined extremists groups in Syria, and FBI Director James Comey said some 100 of them Americans.
Comey said the terrorism threat of today "has spread, metastasized. ... The traveler problem makes it even more difficult, because the people going to Syria are not from any particular demographic. They're not from any particular part of the United States."
Comey's remarks came during a visit to the FBI's field office in Minneapolis, which has struggled in recent years with several young Somali-Americans leaving the United States to join the terror group al-Shabab in Somalia.
FBI spokesman E.K. Wilson said agents continue to investigate reports that several young men have left the Minneapolis area for overseas locations, including Syria.
"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," he said, as reports of travel to Syria surfaced.