Mohamad Jamal Khweis has spoken for the first time about time inside Isil and his decision to escape
The Telegraph, by Raf Sanchez, March 18, 2016:
An American man who joined the Islamic State (Isil) only to escape weeks later has spoken for the first time, saying he followed a woman into the so-called caliphate and immediately regretted his decision.
Mohamad Jamal Khweis, a 26-year-old from Virginia, entered Isil territory in Syria in January but surrendered to Kurdish troops in northern Iraq this week after becoming disillusioned with the jihadist group.
He told the story of how he reached Iraq and how he escaped to a Kurdish television channel, offering a rare perspective from an Isil defector.
Khweis presented himself as a hapless young man who travelled with little direction from his home near Washington DC to London in mid-December and then on to Amsterdam and eventually Turkey.
In Istanbul, he said he met an Iraqi woman from Mosul whose sister had been married to an Isil fighter and who arranged transportation to Syria.
“I made a bad decision to go with a girl and go to Mosul. At the time I made the decision to go because I wasn’t thinking straight,” Khweis told Kurdistan 24. “On the way there I regretted it, I wanted to go back.”
The pair entered Syria together but were quickly separated. It is not clear if Khweis now believes the woman is an Isil recruiter who lured him in or just another foreign volunteer like himself.
US authorities will need to decide whether they believe Khweis’s version of events as they weigh whether to charge him with a crime. He is in Kurdish custody in Irbil but likely to return to the US soon.
It is not known if Khweis travelled to London and Amsterdam to meet with Isil sympathisers or was simply passing through on his way to Turkey.
Once in Turkey, Khweis said he was given the nickname Abu Omar, a common Isil nom de guerre, and then travelled through a series of way stations to Mosul.
The city is the second largest in Iraq and has been held by Isil since June 2014.
“It was pretty hard to live in Mosul. It’s not like the Western countries,” Khweis said.
He spent eight hours a day learning about Islam and the rest praying and eating, he said. “It’s very strict, there’s no smoking,” he said. The Kurdish footage shows him dragging on a cigarette.
He did not say if he was given any military training or was involved in any fighting while part of Isil.
As a foreigner who only occasionally went to mosque, he was put in classes to learn sharia law. “I didn’t really support their ideology and that’s the point when I decided I needed to escape,” he said.
He said a friend helped him reach the Sinjar district near the Iraqi border with Turkey, where Kurdish troops and Isil fighters face each other across the battlefield.
Khweis could offer valuable intelligence to the US about how foreign fighters are recruited into Isil.
The government then faces a choice about whether to prosecute him. A prosecution could deter others thinking of joining the jihadist group but might also discourage others like Khweis or are thinking of defecting.
Asked if he had any message for the American people, he said: “Life in Mosul is really bad. The people were controlling Mosul don’t represent the religion, Isil doesn’t represent the religion, I don’t see them as good Muslims.”