Fighters from the Islamic State (file)
Fighters from the Islamic State (file)Reuters

An American fighting for the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) was killed over the weekend in Syria, U.S. officials said on Tuesday, according to AFP.

The United States had been aware that Douglas McCain, 33, a one-time aspiring rapper and basketball fan from California, was in war-torn Syria, the White House said, confirming his death.

McCain, who converted from Christianity to Islam about a decade ago, was killed in fighting against the Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda-linked group blacklisted by the United States, U.S. media reports 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," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, according to AFP.

McCain's affiliation to IS - which has overrun large swathes of Iraq and Syria in a brutal offensive - and his death had left his family "devastated" and "just as surprised as the country," his uncle Ken McCain told CNN.

He was "a good person, loved his family, loved his mother, loved his faith," the uncle said, referring to his nephew's Christian beliefs before his conversion.

The U.S. State Department informed the family of his death on Monday, according to AFP.

"We are in contact with the family and are providing all possible consular assistance," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

NBC said McCain, from San Diego, was carrying about $800 in cash and his American passport when he was killed.

It cited an activist as saying McCain was among three foreign fighters in the IS camp who died during the battle, although details were sketchy.

The incident highlights the West’s concerns about citizens traveling to the Middle East to fight alongside jihadist groups.

U.S. officials last week told AFP that more than 100 Americans had left to fight in Syria or tried to do so, while hundreds of Britons have also reportedly made the journey, along with those from other European countries.

In February it was estimated that at least 50 U.S. citizens are fighting in Syria, and are liable to bring terrorism back to their home country once the war is over.

The State Department estimates there are about 12,000 foreign fighters from at least 50 countries in Syria.

There are also Russians, Germans, Canadians and French citizens taking part in the fighting in Syria.