Homeland Security

Two American ISIS Fighters Captured in Syria

Two Americans who had joined ISIS in Syria were captured Sunday by U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near the Hajin pocket, one of the remaining areas under the terror group’s control in Deir ez-Zor governate in eastern Syria. Two Pakistanis and one Irishman were also captured.

Among those being held by the SDF is University of Houston graduate Warren Christoper Clark, who was profiled by NBC News last February.

The SDF announced their detention earlier today:

The operation Jazeera Storm, carried out with the aim of liberating the last regions under the occupation of ISIS, continues steadily towards clearing the last bastions of the group. ISIS, which is now cornered in a small area after being cleared from large swathes of territory it once held, is suffering heavy losses due to operations of our forces. Recently, in order to prevent the advance of our forces, terrorists have attempted to carry out attacks several times. In this context, a group of terrorists who had been preparing to attack the civilians who were trying to get out of the war zone in masses was detected. Following long-term technical and physical follow-up, an operation against the cell was carried out by our forces. As a result of the operation, 5 terrorists originally from the United States, Ireland and Pakistan were captured.

The 34-year-old Clark and 35-year-old Zaid Abed al-Hamid were identified as the captured Americans. Where al-Hamid is from has not yet been reported.

Last February, NBC News reported on Clark’s defection to ISIS:

Clark is from a middle-class church-going family with ties to the military, someone who knew him in high school said.

He converted to Islam around 2004, turned to the Internet to research the religion as he became more devout, and ended up on radical sites, the person said. He would watch violent YouTube videos into the wee hours and load up his social media accounts with anti-American posts, they said.

A Twitter account that uses the same handle Clark used for the email on his resume contains ISIS propaganda. “ISIS are only fighting soldiers that have been oppressing Muslims for years. They are liberators,” he wrote in a 2014 post.

The report also cites documents concerning Clark that were recovered from an ISIS safe house in Mosul, Iraq.

Included in the documents obtained by the Project on Extremism at George Washington University was a resume that Clark had forwarded to ISIS officials. He was seeking employment under his kunya, “Abu Muhammad al-Ameriki,” and suggested teaching English at the University of Mosul.

After his graduation from the University of Houston in 2008, Clark worked as a substitute teacher in Texas, and then in Saudi Arabia, according to NBC News.

There have been several other cases of American ISIS fighters captured in Syria and Iraq.

As I reported here at PJ Media in October 2017, Mohamad Jamal Khweis of Alexandria, Virginia, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a federal judge. Khweis had volunteered to be an ISIS suicide bomber, but was captured by the Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq in March 2016.

Khweis was the first American ISIS fighter to be tried in a court.

A year-long court battle between the ACLU and the U.S. government concluded last October when the U.S. agreed to release and transfer a Saudi-U.S. dual citizen to Bahrain after holding him in detention in Iraq without charge after he was arrested at a SDF checkpoint in September 2017.

The New York Times reported that the subject of that court case was Abdulrahman Ahmad Alsheikh, who was born in the U.S. and had attended college in Louisiana.

Last August I reported on the indictment brought by the Justice Department against ISIS bride Samantha Elhassani of Indiana, who moved with her husband and children to the ISIS capital of Raqqa, Syria, in 2014. Her husband, Moussa Elhassani, was killed by a drone at some point in 2017.

Elhassani’s indictment states that she had acquired tactical gear for known ISIS terrorists and provided other related support for the terror group.

Her 10-year-old son was featured in an ISIS propaganda video in August 2017 threatening President Donald Trump and warning of domestic terror attacks. The video also showed a young Yazidi boy, Ayham Azad, who was abducted from Iraq and was held hostage by her family.

Also held captive by the Elhassani family was a 14-year-old Yezidi girl, who was repeatedly raped by Moussa Elhassani.

Also appearing in ISIS propaganda videos is 26-year-old Zulfi Hoxha of Margate, New Jersey, who graduated from Atlantic City High School in 2010.

He left the U.S. in April 2015 and arrived at an ISIS training camp four days later.

Hoxha, the U.S.-born son of Albanian immigrants, serves as an ISIS commander and has appeared in several videos, including one where he is part of a group beheading Kurdish fighters.

In one June 2016 video appearing as “Abu Ismail al-Amriki,” Hoxha praised the ISIS-inspired Orlando nightclub massacre that killed 49 and encouraged supporters to conduct domestic terror attacks. Officials believe the video was shot in northern Iraq.

Hoxha’s whereabouts are still unknown.

The fate of Jaffrey Khan and his wife, Zakia Nasrin, who both lived in Raqqa, is also unknown. Reports indicate they have a daughter who was born in Syria.

As I reported in May 2016, Khan and Nasrin, along with her younger brother Rasel Raihan, left their home in Columbus, Ohio, and set off to join ISIS in Syria in May 2014. Intelligence officials believe that Raihan was killed at some point in Raqqa.

There has been some debate about how many Americans have joined with ISIS and other terror groups in Syria and Iraq.

I previously noted that just prior to the 2014 midterm elections then-FBI Director James Comey told 60 Minutes that “roughly a dozen” Americans were fighting with extremist groups in Syria.

But after the elections, several Obama administration officials, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, claimed that 180 U.S. persons had traveled to Syria. More remarkably, he claimed that 40 such individuals had already returned to the United States.

A report published last year by the Project on Extremism stated that 64 Americans traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State; only 12 of them returned to the United States, and nine of those were arrested.