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Amid ISIS Battles, American Surrenders in Iraq

Before dawn on Monday, Kurdish soldiers noticed a man approaching them near the ancient city of Sinjar, the site of violent clashes with Islamic State fighters. The soldiers sounded an alarm, warning of a possible suicide bomber. But the man soon called out in a mixture of broken Arabic and perfect English that he wanted to surrender.

He was unarmed and was carrying three cellphones, said Sarbaz Hama Ameen, a Kurdish pesh merga officer who was present. He also had a few thousand dollars in mixed currency and, most surprising, a Virginia driver's license.

Within hours, the American authorities were investigating how a young man from the Washington suburbs ended up in northern Iraq, near the border with Syria, in the midst of the bloody war with the Islamic State. The F.B.I was trying to piece together his travels and figure out what drew him there.

Little was certain, including the man's identity. Kurdish officials originally released one name, then circulated the driver's license bearing a different one: Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 26. In Alexandria, Va., at the address on the license, a man identified as Mr. Khweis's father alternated between defending his son to reporters, denying he was his father and making threats.

"Listen to me what I'm saying: He's old enough. I cannot ask him where he's going, where he's coming from," said the man, Jamal Khweis. He said he had spoken to the F.B.I. but did not know where his son was. "You say he's in Iraq. He's not. I know he will never go there."

At one point, he turned a hose on the reporters gathered on the front yard of his townhouse.

"I have nothing to say," he said. "I don't know anything about my son."

Scores of Americans have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the violent mishmash of terrorist groups and rebels, and the F.B.I. has arrested many others who have tried. Sometimes, the United States becomes aware of Americans fighters in the region. But by late Monday, there was no indication that authorities had known that Mr. Khweis was in Iraq.

"We're aware of the reports, aware that the U.S. citizen allegedly fighting for ISIL has been captured by pesh merga forces in northern Iraq," Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement, using the administration's acronym for the Islamic State. "We're in touch with Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to determine the veracity of these reports."

Law enforcement officials said they were still trying to confirm whether Mr. Khweis had fought alongside the Islamic State. Kurdish forces recaptured Sinjar, near where Mr. Khweis surrendered, from the Islamic State in November.

If he did fight with the terrorist group, he would be the first American known to have surrendered in the field, according to Seamus Hughes, an expert on Islamist extremism at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University.

Although domestic plots from the Islamic State may cause alarm, fighting abroad has been the driving force among those in the United States inspired by the group, said Karen J. Greenberg, executive director of the Center on National Security at the Fordham University School of Law. All told, almost all of those charged were American citizens or permanent residents. About 40 percent had converted to Islam. Nearly three-quarters were under 30, and all but 12 were male.

Mr. Khweis is believed to have graduated from Thomas A. Edison High School in Alexandria, Va. His father is a limousine driver; his mother is a licensed cosmetologist.

His brother, Tamer, spoke briefly to reporters. "We're thankful," he said. "That's it, we're thankful."

[Source: By Kamil Kakol and Nicholas Fandos, The New York Times, Sulaimaniya, 14Mar16]

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War in Afghanistan & Iraq
small logoThis document has been published on 18Mar16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.