Alexandria man sentenced for joining ISIS

WASHINGTON — An Alexandria, Virginia, man was sentenced Friday to 20 years in prison after having been convicted of joining and supporting ISIS.

The Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia said in a statement that Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 28, was convicted by a federal jury June 7. He left the U.S. in December 2015 and crossed from Turkey into Syria to join ISIS for two and a half months.

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 ISIS.

In Syria, the statement said, Khweis stayed in several safe houses and filled out an intake form on which, among other things, he indicated he was willing to be a suicide bomber. He also underwent religious training, attended lectures, watched military videos and gave money to other ISIS members.

Eventually, he was deployed to Iraq and captured by Kurdish Peshmerga forces in March 2016. In March of this year, the U.S. military got his intake form and an ISIS camp roster with Khweis’ name on it.

He told a Kurdish TV station after surrendering that he “wasn’t thinking straight” when he joined the terror group.

His sentence could have ranged from five years to life. Prosecutors were looking for 35 years, while defense lawyers sought a five-year sentence. They contended that Khweis never intended to harm the U.S., and that a harsh sentence would deter other Americans who joined the Islamic State from quitting.

The U.S. attorney’s office said that Khweis traveled to several countries before landing in Turkey and used encrypted devices and secure cellphone applications, all in an effort to cover his tracks, and said that Khweis admitted at his trial that he lied to U.S. and Kurdish officials about his involvement with ISIS.

“The evidence at trial demonstrated that Mohamad Khweis is an unpredictable and dangerous person who was radicalized towards violent jihad,” U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente said in the statement.

Boente’s office said at the time of Khweis’ conviction that before leaving the U.S. he sold his car, closed his online accounts and didn’t tell his family where he was going. Boente said at the time that Khweis was “not a naive kid who didn’t know what he was doing. He … studied criminal justice in college. He strategically planned his travel to avoid law enforcement suspicion, encrypted his communications, and planned for possible alibis. Khweis knew exactly what he was doing, knew exactly who ISIS was, and was well aware of their thirst for extreme violence.”

Boente added that joining ISIS or any terrorist organization was “a federal crime, even if you get scared and decide to leave.”

Khweis was convicted of providing and conspiring to provide material support or resources to ISIS, and a related firearms count.

The Associated Press and WTOP’s J.J. Green contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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