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Heightening concerns about Americans joining the Islamic State group were reports Tuesday that a California man who fought side by side with militants was found dead on the battlefield.

U.S. officials confirmed Tuesday that the body of Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, was found after a brutal battle. He was identified based on the U.S. passport he had in his pocket.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said officials were “aware” of McCain’s presence in Syria and acknowledged that the White House had been tracking his whereabouts prior to his death.

“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,” she said.

CNN spoke to McCain’s uncle, Ken McCain, who said his nephew converted from Christianity to Islam several years ago, became a jihadi and left his family “devastated.” Douglas McCain often praised the Islamic State on his Twitter account.

The discovery of an American Muslim convert in combat alongside foreign fighters is consistent with the unease of U.S. officials, who are concerned they will take what they learned from the battlefield, return to the homeland and perpetrate attacks on Americans.

Obama administration officials believe the threat capability of the returning jihadists is limited to small attacks. The foreign fighters are expected to lack the conspiracy planning and organization necessary to commit a larger attack like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

But Maj. Lyons suggested the foreign fighters overall present a greater long-term danger to the United States than al-Qaeda.

“Unlike the 9/11 terrorists, who worked as a team and [carried out] a plan over the course of years, individuals returning from Syria are likely a greater risk to be either lone wolf suicide bomber-type attackers or organizers/recruiters for cells who will conduct a more complex attack than a suicide bomb,” he said.

Senior U.S. officials said that it is likely that intelligence agencies will place those Americans on an appropriate watch list or a no-fly list.

“I know that law enforcement agencies in Homeland Security are mindful of some Americans who have become radicalized, and some have taken up with [the Islamic State],” the official said.

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for clarification on its methods for tracking Americans suspected of involvement with the Islamic State group or for deterring the potential threat they pose to the United States.

Not everyone in Washington sees such a small sliver of the radicalized American population as a threat to the U.S. homeland.

Aaron Miller, a national security analyst and the vice president for new initiatives at Washington think tank the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said members of the Islamic State group are projected to range between 10,000 to 15,000 — a figure that does not pose a serious threat to the United States and should not spark a scare campaign.

“We love scaring ourselves,” said Mr. Miller, who has served as adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of state. “I mean, we’ve become masters at it. We did it during the Cold War and we did it in the wake of 9/11. And while our response to Afghanistan was extremely appropriate, look what we did in Iraq.”

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