Watch CBS News

American militant in Syria: "I was just a normal kid"

Ibn Zubayr, as he calls himself, has spent the last two years fighting with an al Qaeda-aligned rebel group in Syria
American Jihadist on why he's fighting against the West 03:50

SYRIA - "When I was living in America, I was just a normal kid," said Ibn Zubayr. "I liked sports and whatnot, growing up, watching movies, just like any other American."

But Ibn Zubayr, as he calls himself, is not just any American. For the past two years, he's been fighting for Jabhat al Nusra, a rebel group that has sworn allegiance to al Qaeda.

Clarissa Ward talks with a man who was raised in the U.S. and now fights in Syria with the jihadist group al Nusra CBS News

He insisted we alter his voice to conceal his identity.

"I don't hate America," Zubayr said. "That's my home. That's where I grew up. I don't have a need to hate America itself. But the government and their policies as far as the Muslim lands, that's another story."

The Somali American had dropped out of college to study Islam in the Middle East. He told us he was moved by the plight of the Syrian people, under attack by their own government -- so he decided to join the fight.

Western jihadist on why he fights 04:53

Now he feels that he is under attack from the American government. Zubayr told us he narrowly escaped death when his house was hit during recent U.S. airstrikes in Syria. The U.S. has claimed the strikes targeted terrorists plotting an attack on the West.

"The people they killed, that died in there, was [sic] close friends of mine," said Zubayr, "That I slept in the same room with, ate food with, people that I know, on a personal, personal level."

Asked if any of those people had any intention of attacking America or the West at any point in the future, Zubayr replied: "The better question is, can you tell me honestly that these hits won't create people that will want to come and hit America?"

That's the big fear in Washington. There are more than a dozen U.S. citizens fighting inside Syria. Another American gained notoriety when he became a suicide bomber for Nusra. The question is what happens when these battle-hardened fighters come home.

"There is no threat from us if we don't get hit," said Zubayr.

Ward: "That sounds a lot like something Osama Bin Laden once said."

Zubayr: "It's the case, we look up to the sheikh."

Ward: "You look up to Bin Laden?"

Zubayr: "Of course."

Ward: "You can understand that that's really hard for Americans to hear."

Zubayr: "Why?"

Ward: "Because of 9/11."

Zubayr: "We have 9/11's every day in the Muslim lands."

That belief -- that the U.S. is waging a war on Islam -- is growing across the Muslim world.

Ward: "Would you support a terrorist attack on the United States?"

Zubayr: "I wouldn't consider it a terrorist attack. If anything happened there, I would consider it a reaction to this action."

Ward: "Even if innocent women and children were killed?"

Zubayr: "Is it not a terrorist attack? What I consider a terrorist attack is these Tomahawk bombs [sic] being shot from wherever they're being shot from and killing innocent people. So I wouldn't. There's no tears being shed from me if something happened in America."

Ward: "Would you ever participate in such an attack?"

Zubayr: (pauses) "No."

Ward: "You hesitated."

Zubayr: "Hmm."

Ward: "Why?"

Zubayr: "Uh."

Ward: "Be honest."

Zubayr: "Because I can't. Even if I wanted to, I can't."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.