The U.S. government has confirmed that a 33-year-old man who grew up and went to high school in Minnesota was killed in Syria over the weekend while fighting for the militant group ISIS, NBC News reports.
The body of Douglas McAuthur McCain, who attended Robbinsdale Cooper High School, was discovered after a firefight between ISIS and a separate opposition group. He was one of three foreigners fighting on behalf of ISIS who died in the gun battle, according to NBC News.
A national security spokeswoman at the White House, Caitlin Hayden, released a statement Tuesday evening confirming the death of McCain, and said that U.S. officials knew that he was in Syria.
"We were aware of U.S. Citizen Douglas McAuthur McCain's presence in Syria and can confirm his death,'' Hayden said. "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."
NBC News first reported McCain's death, saying it had seen photos of McCain's body, including a distinctive neck tattoo, and his U.S. passport.
McCain had a few minor run-ins with the law while living in Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports. He was convicted of a minor drug possession crime, theft, disorderly conduct and driving after his license was revoked. The booking photos above are from Anoka County in 2003, left, and Hennepin County in 2008, according to NBC.
Friends and family members of McCain spoke to NBC and the Star Tribune, describing a young man who was fun to be around, light-hearted, and devoted to his family. They say he converted to Islam – one of McCain's tweets said he "reverted" – in 2004.
The Star Tribune reports family of McCain had been concerned about his recent support of ISIS. The paper spoke with two cousins, who said they'd communicated with McCain via social media, one of them as recently as last Friday.
He moved to San Diego at some point, and then earlier this year traveled to Turkey before heading to Syria, NBC reports.
On his Twitter account and now-deactivated Facebook profile, McCain outwardly expressed his support for Islam, posting quotes and sayings related to the religion.
"Its Islam over everything," his Twitter bio, under the name Duale Khalid, says. On Facebook he went by "Duale ThaslaveofAllah."
In recent months, his Twitter account displayed outward support of ISIS, including retweeting a tweet that says "It takes a warrior to understand a warrior. Pray for ISIS."
Some images on his Facebook page were removed throughout the afternoon Tuesday, as McCain's death has been reported, the Star Tribune notes.
What is ISIS?
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, now commonly referred to as ISIS, formed in April of 2013 after a split with a regional al-Qaida force, the BBC explains, and prior to that was known as "The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant." It's now often referred to simply as the Islamic State. The militant group grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq, but as the BBC notes the Islamic State and al-Qaida split, leading to the birth of the ISIS in its current form.
According to The Telegraph, ISIS for a long time was a relatively minor force, fighting American and British troops in the Baghdad area. Last year, the group used the civil war in Syria to recruit that country's rebels and expand beyond its small scope in Iraq.
CNN says they've been able to thrive because of a "security vacuum" in the region, the goal being to create an Islamic state that stretches across portions of Iraq and Syria. An Islamic State means the installation of Sharia, often-strict Islamic law, CNN explains – rather than the political systems currently in place in both countries.
ISIS released a video last week which showed the beheading of American journalist James Foley.
The Chicago Tribune describes ISIS' methods as "exceptionally brutal," with reports of mass beheadings when the group overran the city of Mosul in northern Iraq (about 90 minutes from the Syrian border). The violence is often directed at other religious groups, such as Shiite Muslims, Iraqi Yazidi and Christians.
CNN says ISIS has thrived by keeping the support of influential local tribal leaders and offering welfare and medical facilities in the newly conquered towns.
The BBC says ISIS has taken control of notable strong points in the area, including the Syrian city of Raqqa and Fallujah in Iraq. When the group captured Mosul in June, it secured with it hundreds of millions of dollars in financing as well.
President Barack Obama began limited airstrikes targeting ISIS in Iraq starting the first week of August, the New York Times reported, in an attempt to slow down the group's momentum and stop it from seizing more territory.