Virginia Man Who Found ISIS ‘Hard' Faces Up to 20 Years in Prison

The Virginia man who said he joined ISIS and then defected because he realized he made a "bad decision" appeared Thursday in federal district court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 26, of Fairfax County, was informed by federal Judge John Anderson that he faces as much as 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and supervision for the rest of his life if he is convicted. He was charged with providing material support to ISIS.

Khweis did not enter a plea and did not speak at the hearing, which marked his first appearance in a U.S. courtroom since he was returned from custody in Iraq on Wednesday.

He wore a wore a T-shirt, pants and flip-flops. His once-long hair and beard had been shaved. He waved in the courtroom to her mother, father and brother.

Khweis surrendered to Kurdish forces in Iraq in March. He is the first known alleged American ISIS fighter to surrender on the battlefield, NBC News reported.

The American-born son of Palestinian immigrants told investigators he started researching ISIS, aka ISIL, before he left the U.S. in Dec. 2015. His journey began when he left Baltimore–Washington International Airport for London and made his way to Turkey, then Syria and then Iraq, where he said he trained with ISIS fighters.

"During the interview, the defendant stated he 'gave himself' to ISIL and that they controlled him. The defendant stated he was aware that ISIL wants to attack and destroy the United States," according to an affidavit from an FBI agent, viewed by NBC News.

Khweis' lawyer, John Zwerling, said Thursday that the FBI's account of events is "totally without value."

"Everything is not as it appears in a government pleading," he said. "We will have our opportunity to explain the other side at the appropriate time."

Khweis said on Kurdish television in March that he freely joined ISIS but became disenchanted with the people running the training camps.

He told FBI agents that he had agreed to wear a suicide bomb but that he thought it was a test from recruiters and that he told them that because he thought it was what they wanted to hear.

Khweis said in the TV interview that he met a woman with connections to ISIS in Turkey a few months before he left the U.S. She took him across the border into Syria to find ISIS fighters, he said. Then he was sent to the Iraqi city of Mosul and moved into a house with dozens of other foreign fighters.

“My message to the American people is the life in Mosul is really, really bad,” he said on TV. “The people controlling Mosul don’t represent the religion.”

“I didn't really support their ideology, and at that point, that's when I decided I needed to escape,” he said in the TV interview.

He sought out Kurds to help him get back to the Turkish border, he said on TV. He was captured by Kurdish Peshmerga military forces on March 14 as he tried to enter the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, NBC News reported.

Khweis told the TV station that signing up with ISIS had been a "bad decision."

"I don't see them as good Muslims," he said. "I wanted to go back to America."

Khweis' father, who lives in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, confronted reporters in March, when his son first was accused.

"He's my son, he's a good person, he's a good son," the father said, arguing with members of the media and eventually turning a garden hose on them.

Khweis was held without bond and is due in court June 14.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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