American convicted of joining ISIS overseas sentenced to 20 years

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A Virginia man became the first American citizen to be convicted of successfully joining ISIS overseas on Friday.

Sentenced to 20 years in prison, Mohamad Khweis, 28, became radicalized in 2015 and traveled to Islamic State-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria in December of that year to become a full-fledged, card-carrying ISIS terrorist.

Disillusioned by the restrictive lifestyle of militant Islam, Khweis fled the region and surrendered to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq in March of 2016. He was then transported back to the states to stand trial.

Read the full Department of Justice release below:

Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 28, of Alexandria, Virginia, was sentenced today to 20 years in prison for providing material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Dana J. Boente, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Andrew W. Vale, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady.

“The evidence at trial demonstrated that Mohamad Khweis is an unpredictable and dangerous person who was radicalized towards violent jihad,” said Mr. Boente. “This office, along with the National Security Division and our investigative partners, are committed to tracking down anyone who provides or attempts to provide material support to a terrorist organization.”

“Today’s sentencing of Mohamad Khweis demonstrates the relentless efforts of the FBI and our partners within the Joint Terrorism Task Force, whom work 24/7 to identify individuals who pose a risk or harm to U.S. persons or interests,” said Mr. Vale. “Khweis purposefully traveled overseas with the intent to join ISIS in support of the terrorist group’s efforts to conduct operations and execute attacks to further their radical ideology. Khweis recognized that ISIS uses violence in its expansion of its caliphate and he committed to serving as a suicide bomber.”

Khweis was convicted by a federal jury on June 7. According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Khweis left the United States in mid-December 2015, and ultimately crossed into Syria through the Republic of Turkey in late December 2015. Before leaving, Khweis strategically planned his travel. Using a sophisticated scheme of tradecraft, Khweis purposefully traveled to other countries first before entering Turkey to conceal his final destination. During his travel to the Islamic State, he used numerous encrypted devices to conceal his activity, and downloaded several applications on his phone that featured secure messaging or anonymous web browsing. Khweis used these applications to communicate with ISIS facilitators to coordinate and secure his passage to the Islamic State.

After arriving in Syria, Khweis stayed at a safe house with other ISIS recruits in Raqqa and filled out ISIS intake forms, which included his name, age, skills, specialty before jihad and status as a fighter. When Khweis joined ISIS, he agreed to be a suicide bomber. In February 2017, the U.S. military recovered his intake form, along with an ISIS camp roster that included Khweis’ name with 19 other ISIS fighters.

During the trial, the evidence showed that Khweis spent two and a half months as an ISIS member, traveled with ISIS fighters to multiple safe houses, participated in ISIS-directed religious training, attended ISIS lectures, constantly watched military videos with his fellow ISIS members for inspiration, frequently gave money to ISIS members and was forward deployed to Tal Afar, Iraq, before he was captured. Kurdish Peshmerga military forces detained Khweis in March 2016. A Kurdish Peshmerga official testified at trial that he captured Khweis on the battlefield after Khweis left an ISIS-controlled neighborhood in Tal Afar.

On cross-examination, Khweis admitted he consistently lied to United States and Kurdish officials about his involvement with ISIS, and that he omitted telling U.S. officials about another American who had trained with ISIS to conduct an attack in the United States.

Trial Attorney Raj Parekh of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force provided assistance in this case.

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