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World

American IS fighter: I Made a Bad Decision

Khweis is currently being held by Kurdish forces for interrogation

File photo of a fighter from the YPG firing and anti-aircraft weapon from Tel Tawil village
2 years ago

The American Islamic State group fighter who handed himself over to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq earlier this week said he made “a bad decision” in joining the Islamic State group, according to a heavily edited interview he gave to an Iraqi Kurdish television station.

In the TV interview, which aired late Thursday night, Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 26, from Alexandria, Virginia detailed his weeks-long journey from the United States to London, Amsterdam, Turkey, through Syria and finally to the IS-controlled Iraqi city of Mosul.

Once in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city that was captured by the Islamic State group in the summer of 2014, Khweis was moved into a house with dozens of other foreign fighters, he told the Kurdistan 24 station.

FILE - This photo posted online by PUK shows the Virginia driver's license found on a man who turned himself in to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq on Monday, March 14, 2016. The American Islamic State group fighter who handed himself over to Kurdish forces in Iraq’s north earlier this week says he made “a bad decision” joining IS and traveling to Mosul, according to a heavily edited interview he gave to an Iraqi Kurdish television station that aired late Thursday night, March 17, 2016. (PUK Media via AP, File)

The American Islamic State group fighter who handed himself over to Kurdish forces in Iraq’s north earlier this week says he made “a bad decision” joining IS and traveling to Mosul, according to a heavily edited interview he gave to an Iraqi Kurdish television station that aired late Thursday night, March 17, 2016. Photo: AP/PUK Media

Khweis said he met an Iraqi woman with IS ties in Turkey who arranged his travel into Syria and then across the border into Iraq. In Mosul, Khweis said he began more than a month of intensive Islamic studies and it was then he decided to try and flee.

“I didn’t agree with their ideology,” he said, explaining why he decided to escape a few weeks after arriving. “I made a bad decision to go with the girl and go to Mosul.”

Khweis said a friend helped him escape from Mosul to the nearby city of Tal Afar. From there he walked toward Kurdish troops. “I wanted to go to the Kurdish side,” he said, “because I know they are good with the Americans.”

The surrender took place on the front lines near the town of Sinjar, which was retaken by Iraqi forces from IS militants late last year. In the past year, IS fighters have lost large amounts of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Khweis is currently being held by Kurdish forces for interrogation.

Though such defections are rare, Syrian Kurdish fighters battling IS have said that they are seeing an increase in the number of IS members surrendering following recent territorial losses. As the militants lose territory, U.S. officials predict there will be more desertions.

“I wasn’t thinking straight,” Khweis said in the TV interview.

An American man whose driver's license identified him as Kweis Mohammed Jamal speaks during an interview with Kurdish television, in this still image from video taken on March 16, 2016. The 26-year-old American man who was captured by Kurdish forces in Iraq earlier this week, said he had travelled from Turkey to join Islamic State before deciding to escape, according to an interview with Kurdish television on Thursday. REUTERS/Kurdistan 24 via Reuters TV ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

An American man whose driver’s license identified him as Kweis Mohammed Jamal speaks during an interview with Kurdish television, in this still image from video taken on March 16, 2016. Photo: Reuters

“My message to the American people is that the life in Mosul is really, really bad,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe the Islamic State group accurately represents Islam.

The United Nations estimated that around 30,000 so-called foreign fighters from 100 countries are actively working with the Islamic State group, al-Qaida or other extremist groups. An earlier estimate by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, a think-tank at King’s College London, said IS fighters include 3,300 Western Europeans and 100 or so Americans.

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