News / Middle East

    Parents of IS Fighter Thought He Was in Canada

    A driver's license of an American identified as Mohamed Jamal Khweis, accused of being a member of the Islamic State group, who has surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.
    A driver's license of an American identified as Mohamed Jamal Khweis, accused of being a member of the Islamic State group, who has surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.
    Najab BalaySirwan Kajjo

    Mohamed Khweis’s parents were awakened Monday morning by a VOA reporter and cameraman at the family’s townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

    The newspeople told them something they never expected to hear: their son was a member of the Islamic State (IS) and he had surrendered to Kurdish forces in Iraq.

    "We thought he was in Canada lately,” said a woman who identified herself as Khweis's mother. “We also know he has been traveling to Turkey.”  

    But the parents had not been in contact with the son for a long time. They had no idea he was in Iraq or had ties with any extremist groups.

    The parents said they are of Palestinian background. The father said he came to the U.S. in 1988.

    When shown a published photo of Khweis in Kurdish custody , the family said they were not certain it was him.

    “The guy in the picture is not my brother,” insisted Tamer Khweis, a college student and a younger brother of Mohammed Khweis.

    “There are similarities, but I can’t confirm because the picture isn’t clear,” his mother said.

    Khweis' personal belongings might have been stolen and have ended up in Iraq, the family suggested.

    Figure on the horizon

    Sarbaz Hama Amin, a Kurdish Peshmerga commander in Iraq, told VOA his forces noticed an odd figure while on patrol Monday in northern Iraq, near the town of Sinjar.

    “Our Peshmergas who were patrolling the frontline said they saw something unusual and started firing at it. That thing disappeared after we fired at it but our Peshmergas started looking for it. After it became light after 5:00 a.m., he screamed at us and told us in English, ‘Who can talk to me? I want to come to you.’

    But our Peshmergas didn’t understand English,” Amin continued.  “He spoke a very limited Arabic and asked if anyone spoke English. After Peshmergas made sure he had no explosives on, we arrested him and took him to the camp where he said he wanted to surrender.”

    Amin added that the suspect told them his father was Palestinian.

    A picture of the suspect’s Virginia state driver’s license, sent to VOA, identifies him as Mohamed Jamal Khweis.  

    “The fighter might possibly have come from the Talafar town controlled by IS because that place is the closest frontline to us,” Amin said. “He had Turkish money and some dollars. He also had a visa card and an American driver’s license.”

    Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga Gen. Hashem Sitayi told VOA the suspect traveled through Turkey to Syria to join Islamic State.

    “It looks like it's still far too easy to get into Syria from Turkey,” Patrick Skinner told VOA. Skinner is an intelligence officer now with The Soufan Group, a strategic security intelligence consultancy. “It shows how hard it is to control or detect movement in places where so many people are moving both in terms of fleeing but also in terms of normal life.”

    Skinner added, “It will be important to get his information on his points of contacts before he traveled and on other USCITs [American citizens] he might have seen.”

    An American identified as Mohamed Jamal Khweis, accused of being a member of the Islamic State group, has surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.
    An American identified as Mohamed Jamal Khweis, accused of being a member of the Islamic State group, has surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.

    State Department response

    Later in the morning the father, Jamal Khweis, in an exclusive interview with VOA, said he tried to get more information from U.S. authorities.

    “I went to the State Department to inquire about my son. They didn’t help. I heading home now,” he said. “My wife said there are cameras and many reporters outside of my house. I won’t talk to reporters until the U.S. government confirms my son’s capture.”

    A U.S. State Department official said “We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen that was allegedly fighting for Da’esh (IS) has been captured by Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.  We are in touch with Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to determine the veracity of these reports.”

    Spokesman John Kirby said Monday that over the past several weeks, there have been reports of increasing defections from IS. "Fighters are becoming disenfranchised, certainly disenchanted with the effort that they claimed they signed up for and are, in increasing numbers, deciding to leave the group."

    Kirby added that reports indicate IS is increasingly relying on child soldiers. Originally, he said, child soldiers were used as suicide attackers, and "now we get more reports about them using children... in actual engagements, you know, side by side with adult fighters."

    VOA’s Sharon Behn and Ali Javanmardi contributed to this report from Irbil.  VOA State Department correspondents Nike Ching and Pam Dockins, Rikar Hussein and National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed from Washington.

    You May Like

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Chancey Gardener
    March 14, 2016 1:56 PM
    Notice how upset they seemed to be! Not! What kind of good parents and brother have no clue where son/brother is? How has this guy funded himself? Job? Credit card? Who is getting the cc statement?...and paying it? He is supposed to be in Canada...doing what Notice he has
    been going to Turkey. Why? These people know a lot more than they are not saying.
    In Response

    by: Patrick DeLine
    March 14, 2016 7:55 PM
    Or he's a radical and estranged from his family... The logical alternative to the unlikely idea that they're all complicit. Occam's Razor, anyone?

    by: annymous from: usa
    March 14, 2016 10:34 AM
    Kurdish forces has to deal with him as a prisoner of war according to their standard. Us should not interfere to release him

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese Americans for Trump Going Against National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese Americans for Trump Going Against National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora