Alexandria man charged with providing material support to ISIS

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Alexandria man charged with providing material support to ISIS
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By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)

An Alexandria man has been charged with providing and conspiring to provide material support to the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The criminal complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, was unsealed June 9.

Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 26, was detained by Kurdish Peshmerga military forces on March 14 in northern Iraq after leaving an ISIS-controlled neighborhood in Tal Afar. According to an 11-page affidavit filed May 11 by FBI special agent Victoria I. Martinez, Khweis allegedly admitted to flying out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport to begin his travel to join the terrorist group in mid-December 2015.

His journey allegedly included stops in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands before crossing into Syria through Turkey with the help of ISIS facilitators. Khweis allegedly admitted that he stayed in an ISIS safe house in Raqqa, Syria with other recruits who were going through an intake process. At one point during the process, he allegedly said he would be willing to be a suicide bomber. Khweis also allegedly admitted to participating in religious training for nearly one month in preparation for his service to ISIS.

Khweis made an initial appearance at the federal courthouse in Alexandria June 9, before U.S. Magistrate Judge John F. Anderson. The Washington Post reported that Khweis did not speak at the arraignment, but waved to his family as he left the courtroom.

The case is being prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick and trial attorney Raj Parekh of the U.S. Justice Department’s National Security Division’s counterterrorism section. The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Martinez wrote in the affidavit that Khweis spoke to the FBI voluntarily and that he waived his Miranda rights. He also alleged that Khweis was “inspired to join ISIL because he saw that they had established an Islamic caliphate and were in the process of expanding it.”
“The defendant stated that he knew [ISIS] used violence in its expansion of the caliphate, but he also stated that [ISIS] engaged in peaceful and humanitarian efforts,” Martinez wrote.

Martinez added that Khweis allegedly undertook “extensive research” on ISIS and its activities. Martinez said he watched videos of members of the organization conducting terrorist operations and executing prisoners, including a pilot from Jordan.

“During the interview [with Khweis], the defendant stated he ‘gave himself’ to ISIL and that they controlled him,” Martinez wrote.

That research began to gather momentum, Martinez alleged, when Khweis contacted social media accounts affiliated with ISIS to gain information and talk about his desire to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Martinez said Khweis admitted to conducting research online on how to be smuggled across the border from Turkey into Syria.

Martinez alleged in the affidavit that Khweis had three cell phones, two bank cards and approximately $600 in U.S. dollars, Turkish lira and Iraqi dinar in his possession when he was detained. Martinez added that Khweis said his interview with Kurdish television was not done under any duress.

Khweis graduated from Edison High School in 2007, then took classes at Northern Virginia Community College from 2009 to 2014. He earned an associate’s degree in administration of justice from NOVA.

When he was detained by Kurdish forces in March, Khweis said in an interview with the Kurdistan 24 television station that he “found it very, very hard to live there,” with ISIS. The military force that detained him is called the Peshmerga, which operates in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The forces said at first, they fired on Khweis when they first saw him near the town of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq before taking him into custody.

In his interview with Kurdistan 24, Khweis said he disliked living in the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul in northern Iraq.
“My message to the American people is: The life in Mosul, it’s really, really bad,” he said.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have charged more than 85 people in this country with crimes related to ISIS, but Khweis was the first American to be captured on the battlefield. A September 2015 report by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee said more than 250 Americans have either tried or succeeded in getting to Syria and Iraq to fight with militant groups, a total that includes people who ultimately did not leave the country.

Khweis’ defense attorney John Zwerling reportedly said after the arraignment that “everything is not as it appears in the government’s filing,” and that he and his client look forward to having an opportunity to explain the other side of the story.

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