Homeland Security

Judge Sentences American ISIS Terrorist Captured in Iraq to 20 Years in Prison

Mohamad Jamal Khweis of Alexandria, Virginia, an American ISIS terrorist who was captured by the Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq in March 2016, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a federal judge on Friday.


Khweis is the first known American to have actually fought with ISIS to be convicted and sentenced. Others have been charged and remain at large.

After the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Dana Boente described Khweis as “unpredictable and dangerous”:

The evidence at trial demonstrated that Mohamad Khweis is an unpredictable and dangerous person who was radicalized towards violent jihad. 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…

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.

A federal jury convicted Khweis this past June.

A Justice Department press release says that Khweis knowingly traveled to Syria to join the terror group:

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.


Khweis and his family were telling a different story after he was captured in March 2016.

When he was captured by the Peshmerga, he was carrying credit cards and his Virginia driver’s license.

Video quickly emerged of his capture near Sinjar, Iraq — the site of the ISIS massacre of Yezidi civilians after their takeover of large parts of northern Iraq in August 2014.


The Peshmerga made Khweis available to the international media. He claimed he had been led astray by a woman and unwittingly led into ISIS, which he said was a “bad decision.”

Journalists who showed up at Khweis’ home in Alexandria, Virginia, were attacked by his father and brother.

As stated earlier, Mohamad Jamal Khweis is the first actual ISIS fighter to be convicted and sentenced.

The Pentagon confirmed last month that U.S.-backed forces in Syria had captured another still-unnamed U.S. ISIS fighter.

According to the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, as of earlier this month 136 U.S. individuals have been charged with attempting to join ISIS or providing material support for the terror group.

The FBI has said it has active ISIS-related investigations ongoing in all 50 states.

Just how many American ISIS fighters actually made it to Syria and Iraq, and how many have returned?

Well, that’s a matter of controversy.

In July 2015, then-FBI Director James Comey told Senate lawmakers that more than 200 Americans had joined ISIS.


How many have returned to the U.S.?

In March 2015, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that as many as 40 ISIS fighters had returned.

Then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson confirmed those numbers in an April 2015 interview with 60 Minutes.

A new report published last week from the Soufan Center tries to push those numbers down considerably, claiming 129 had successfully left the country and only 7 had returned.

What is know is that most of these American ISIS fighters are unaccounted for.

Another problem that I noted here at PJ Media a year ago is that it was official Obama administration policy that any ISIS fighter holding a U.S. passport was entitled to return.

Last year, NBC News reported on a computer file (obtained from an ISIS defector) of foreign ISIS recruits that identified at least 15 American ISIS fighters.

As I reported here at PJ Media, included among the names of the American ISIS fighters are Jaffrey Khan, his wife Zakia Nasrin, and her brother Rasel Raihan — all from Columbus, Ohio.

Raihan is known to have died fighting with ISIS. Khan and Nasrin, along with their infant daughter, were living in the now-retaken ISIS capital of Raqqa, Syria. Their status after the battle for Raqqa is unknown.


The problem of returning ISIS fighters is hardly exclusive to the U.S.

What is certain with the rapid decline of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is that many Western countries will now be facing the legal questions of what to do with returning ISIS fighters.

As I reported last week, UK officials are saying that they will not be prosecuting ISIS returnees.

With the successful prosecution of Mohamad Jamal Khweis, the U.S. government has shown it intends to take a different approach.

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