Virginia man who joined Islamic State now faces trial in U.S.

Mohammad Jamal Khweis (CBSN)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP/CBSN) — A one-time bus driver from Virginia accused of traveling to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State is going on trial Tuesday in federal court.

Twenty-seven-year-old Mohamad Khweis spent three months in Islamic State territory before surrendering to Kurdish forces in March 2016. Khweis told authorities that life in the Islamic State was too difficult and that he made a bad decision.

Prosecutors say Khweis’ actions were serious, and that he went as far as to volunteer as a suicide bomber when he went through the formal intake process with Islamic State officials.

Defense attorneys have argued Khweis was desperate to return to the United States, even if it meant facing criminal charges, so he exaggerated his conduct to FBI interrogators to get out of Kurdish prison.

In an interview with Kurdistan24, Khweis said he left his hometown of Alexandria, Virginia in mid-December and then traveled through Europe and eventually to Turkey, where he met an Iraqi girl from Mosul. The pair crossed into Syria and arrived in Mosul by the middle of January.

“I made a bad decision to go… to Mosul,” Khweis said. “At the time I made the decision, I was not thinking straight. On the way there I regretted, and I wanted to go back home after things didn’t work out and saw myself living in such an environment.”

Khweis said his parents moved to the U.S. from the Palestinian territories decades ago and that he attended mosques “not that frequent(ly)” before leaving home. He did not elaborate on why he decided to join ISIS.

“I stayed there about a month, and I found it very, very hard to live there. I decided to return back home,” Khweis said.

He arranged with someone to take him back to the Turkish border, but said the man only took him as far as northern Iraq, where he approached Kurish peshmerga forces at the village of Golat near Tal Afar.

“My message to the American people is that life in Mosul is really very bad. The people who control Mosul don’t represent a religion. Daesh does not represent a religion,” Khweis said, using another acronym for ISIS. “I don’t see them as good Muslims.”

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