US citizen leaves ISIS after joining, gets 20yrs in prison anyway
Mohamad Khweis, 28, of Alexandria, Virginia, was handed his sentence Friday in the Eastern District of Virginia by US District Judge Liam O'Grady. He was captured by Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq in March 2016, and subsequently handed over to US authorities.
Khweis is the first US citizen to be captured on the battlefield, according to a press release by the Department of Justice.
Trial Attorney Raj Parekh, of the National Security Division's Counterterrorism Section, and Assistant US Attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick, who serves in the Eastern District of Virginia, prosecuted the case.
Khweis first left the US in mid-December 2015 and crossed into Syria through Turkey later that same month. But before leaving, he strategically planned his travel routes. He used a “scheme of tradecraft” by traveling to other countries ahead of his initial trip to Turkey, in order to conceal his final destination to join the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), according to a DOJ press release.
But Khweis eventually escaped from the organization a few months after traveling to the IS-controlled territory, and even told a Kurdish TV station that he “wasn’t thinking straight” when he joined the Islamic terrorist group, WTOP reported.
"I didn't agree with their ideology," Khweis explained, according to Fox News.
During the trial, Khweis’ defense attorney John Zwerling stated that Khweis is not as violent as he looks on paper.
"While he was there, he did not fight. He did not do harm to another human being," he said, AP reported.
“He provided valuable, actionable intelligence,” Zwerling said. “And the government has given him zero credit for any of it.”
But Dana J Boente, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, along with US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Andrew W Vale, who serves as the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office, disagreed.
“The evidence at trial demonstrated that Mohamad Khweis is an unpredictable and dangerous person who was radicalized towards violent jihad,” Boente said, according to a DOJ press release. “This office, along with the National Security Division and our investigative partners, are committed to tracking down anyone who provides or attempts to provide material support to a terrorist organization.”
Vale applauded the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, who worked to detain Khweis. He then elaborated on the man’s radicalization while overseas with the Islamic State.
“Khweis purposefully traveled overseas with the intent to join ISIS in support of the terrorist group's efforts to conduct operations and execute attacks to further their radical ideology. Khweis recognized that ISIS uses violence in its expansion of its caliphate and he committed to serving as a suicide bomber.”
The US citizen was eventually deployed to Tal Afar, Iraq, by IS, before his capture by Kurdish Peshmerga forces. During the trial, a Kurdish Peshmerga official testified that he captured Khweis after the man left an IS-controlled neighborhood in Tal Afar.
Evidence provided against Khweis showed he spent two and a half months as a member of IS.
More than 100 people in the US have already been charged with aiding, or trying to join IS, AP reported.