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FORT PIERCE -- The young American suicide bomber who last weekend blew up an explosives-laden truck halfway across the world in Syria made his home in Florida, law enforcement officials said Friday. Records indicate the man played high school basketball in Vero Beach and lived at some point in Fort Pierce.
The 22-year-old, identified late Friday in news reports as Moner Mohammad Abusalha, is believed to have been the first American suicide bomber in Syria.
Few details have emerged on Abusalha, whose name was kept secret by federal authorities for most of Friday while they interviewed his family and friends — some of them elsewhere in Florida — as they traced his movements and investigated whether he was recruited or radicalized online.
Basketball statistics posted on a youth sports website show Abusalha played in 2007 for the Indian River Warriors, a team based in Vero Beach. Records show his parents have lived there and owned several grocery stores along the Treasure Coast.
Law enforcement sources told the Miami Herald that Abusalha resided, at least for some time, in Fort Pierce, about 130 miles north of Miami. The most recent address listed for him in public records — an apartment with a blue door in a one-story Fort Pierce building — now has a different tenant who said he didn’t recognize Abusalha’s name.
At the nearby Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, an imam who did not give his name declined an interview request late Friday. Earlier in the day, several men leaving an afternoon prayer who were shown Abusalha’s photograph said they did not know him.
Photographs posted on jihadi social media show the suicide bomber purportedly in Syria, smiling and sporting a reddish-brown beard. In one of them, he is cradling a cat.