Va. man who traveled to fight with ISIL indicted

WASHINGTON — Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 26, of Fairfax County, has been indicted by federal prosecutors on charges of conspiracy, committing the crime of aiding a terrorist organization and providing material support to a terrorist organization. He was charged in a criminal complaint on June 9.

Court documents said, “Khweis admitted to flying out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport to begin his travel to join ISIL in mid-December 2015. His trip included a stop in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands before ultimately crossing into Syria through the Republic of Turkey with the help of ISIL facilitators.”

He was detained by Kurdish Peshmerga military forces on March 14 in northern Iraq, after leaving an ISIL-controlled neighborhood in Tal Afar, Iraq. He told a Kurdish TV station after surrendering to authorities in northern Iraq that he “wasn’t thinking straight” when he joined the terror group.

Khweis, a graduate of Edison High School in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia Community College, is the first American to be captured on the battlefield fighting for ISIL. His capture could possibly provide significant insight into ISIL’s recruiting and operational tactics.

At the time of his detention, Khweis was carrying “three mobile phones, SIM/memory cards, two bank cards, 451 United States dollars, 285 Turkish Lira and approximately 20,000 Iraqi Dinar,” said an unnamed FBI agent mentioned in the charging documents.

In court documents Khweis said even though he had seen videos of ISIL’s violent acts, he was seduced into thinking he could join the organization and engage in “peaceful and humanitarian efforts.”

In an exclusive interview in late June with WTOP, Khweis’ attorney John Zwerling said his client “would like to try to discourage other people from making the same mistake he did.”

“He would like to try to help educate them as to why going over there is a bad idea, why the organization that is running the Syrian caliphate is not a particularly good group, how they’ve perverted the religion and how they’re tricking people, himself included,” Zwerling said.

Khweis was seeking the same treatment as a New York man, known only as John Doe. According to the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York, John Doe went overseas, joined ISIL, had second thoughts and “eventually escaped and came back and turned himself in to the U.S. government.”

Court documents from the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York indicate that John Doe “pled guilty to two terrorism offenses on November 26, 2014.” But he was spared prison, reportedly in exchange for counseling others against joining terrorist organizations.

Khweis faces up to 40 years in prison.

J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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