A former bus driver, Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 27, who lived with his parents was found guilty of travelling to Syria to join ISIS for training as a suicide bomber because Muslim terrorists decided he had “no other skills.” Khweis was found to have been “providing material support” to ISIS and traveling with Muslim militants for two months in 2016 in Syria and Iraq. During that time, he cleaned up for combatants, bought groceries, and made lunches. In March 2016, he was captured by Kurdish peshmerga forces in northern Iraq. He now five years to life in prison when he is sentenced on October 13.
Khweis resided in Alexandria, Virginia. Born and bred in the United States, he is believed to be the first American fighting for ISIS to surrender in the field. He agreed to be a suicide bomber when he joined the group, the Justice Department said. His parents were Palestinian Muslim immigrants
In February 2017, the US military recovered Khweis’ ISIS intake form, along with a camp roster that included his name with 19 other Islamic State fighters, the Justice Department said. Security experts described Khweis as a potential “intelligence goldmine.” “He could provide a window into the ISIS command structure. Who does he report to? What does his daily routine look like? And the most important thing - how did he get there?” former National Counterterrorism Center official Seamus Hughes told NBC News.
Major General Feisal Helkani of the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces said when Khweis was captured, he was carrying a large amount of cash, three cell phones, and three forms of identification, including a driver's license registered to Virginia. Before leaving the US to join the Islamic State, Khweis worked as a bus driver and lived with his parents. Khweis flew from Baltimore to Turkey, and made stops in London and Amsterdam before taking transport to border town near Syria. He then contacted ISIS officials on Twitter, according to the Washington Post.
Dana J. Boente, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Andrew W. Vale, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady accepted the verdict.
“Khweis is not a naïve kid who didn’t know what he was doing,” said Dana J. Boente, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “He is a 27-year-old man who studied criminal justice in college. He strategically planned his travel to avoid law enforcement suspicion, encrypted his communications, and planned for possible alibis. Khweis knew exactly what he was doing, knew exactly who ISIS was, and was well aware of their thirst for extreme violence. Nonetheless, this did not deter him. Instead, Khweis voluntarily chose to join the ranks of a designated foreign terrorist organization, and that is a federal crime, even if you get scared and decide to leave. 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.”
“Mohamad Khweis purposefully traveled overseas with the intent to join ISIL in support of the terrorist group’s efforts to conduct operations and execute attacks to further their radical ideology,” said Andrew W. Vale, Assistant Director in Charge in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “Furthermore, when ISIL leaders questioned Khweis' commitment to serving as a suicide bomber to carry out acts of terrorism, Khweis stated that he agreed and recognized that ISIL uses violence in its expansion of its caliphate. Today’s verdict underscores the dedication of the FBI and our partners within the Joint Terrorism Task Force in pursuing and disrupting anyone who poses a risk of harm to U.S. persons or interests or by providing material support to a terrorist group.”
According to court records, Khweis left the US in mid-December 2015 and crossed into Syria from Turkey. Before that, he quit his job, sold his car, closed online accounts, and neglected to tell his family of his departure. He used 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.
During the trial, Khweis admitted to spending about two-and-a-half months with ISIS and traveling with militants to safe houses and participating in ISIS-directed religious training. Kurdish Peshmerga military forces captured him in March 2016 on the battlefield after he departed from a neighborhood controlled by ISIS in Tal Afar, Iraq. When examined by US and Kurdish officials, he admitted that he had consistently lied about his involvement with ISIS, and that he omitted telling US officials about another American who had trained with ISIS to conduct an attack in the U.S.