A naturalized U.S. citizen who became so enamored with Islamic State that he abandoned his wife and child to join the terror group in Syria, eventually rising to the rank of emir, faces life behind bars after being convicted of all charges against him.
The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday that a jury has found the now 46-year-old Ruslan Maratovich Asainov guilty on five counts, including conspiracy to provide material support, receiving and providing training, obstruction of justice and support to a terror group that led to the death of one or more persons.
Asainov “was so committed to the terrorist organization’s evil cause that he abandoned his young family here in Brooklyn, New York, to make an extraordinary journey to the battlefield in Syria,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement.
“Even after being captured [Asainov] still pledged his allegiance to ISIS’ murderous path,” Peace added. “There is no place in a civilized world for the defendant’s bloody campaign of death and destruction.”
Asainov was captured by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces following the fall of Baghuz, the Islamic State’s last shred of territory in Syria, in March 2019.
He was extradited to the U.S. in July 2019 and was immediately charged with providing support to the terror group.
According to court documents, Asainov, a naturalized citizen who came to the U.S. from Kazakhstan, traveled to Syria in late 2013, where he began fighting with IS as a sniper.
Eventually, he became one of the terror group's emirs, responsible for establishing training camps for IS recruits and for teaching them how to use weapons.
He also began communicating with a confidential informant for the FBI, asking for money while periodically sending the informant photos of himself and other IS fighters in combat gear.
"We [IS] are the worst terrorist organization in the world that has ever existed," he wrote in one communication, adding he wished to die on the battlefield.
In other messages, officials say Asainov talked about fighting in places like Kobani, Deir el-Zour and Tabka.
In addition to the messages, U.S. officials said some of the evidence against Asainov was based on interviews with "at least one other individual who provided material support and resources to ISIS during part of the same time period as the defendant."
More American IS
Since 2016, the U.S. has repatriated at least 39 citizens from Syria and Iraq, including 15 adults and 24 children.
Of the adults, at least 11 have been charged with crimes. U.S. officials told VOA that some of the adults were not charged because they were minors when they were brought by their families to join IS.
Notable convictions include those of 37-year-old Samantha El-Hassani, who was sentenced to more than six years in prison after she took her children to Syria to join IS.
Her four children, who also came back with her from Syria, were placed in the custody of officials with the U.S. state of Indiana.
Omer Kuzu pleaded guilty to providing material support to IS in September 2022.
And in June 2017, the U.S. brought back Mohamad Jamal Khweis of Alexandria, Virginia. Khweis was later found guilty of providing material support to IS.
IS Foreign Fighters
Despite ongoing efforts to repatriate IS foreign fighters and their families, U.S. officials estimate that the U.S.-backed SDF still holds about 2,000 foreign fighters in make-shift prisons across northeastern Syria, along with another 8,000 Iraqi and Syrian IS fighters.
Both numbers have remained essentially unchanged since October 2019.
A report released Tuesday by the Defense Department Inspector General raised concerns about the state of the prisons in Syria, noting, “many detention facilities were not built to hold detainees and their long-term viability is poor."
U.S. counterterrorism officials estimate that, in total, more than 45,000 foreign fighters flocked to Syria and Iraq following the start of the Syrian civil war, including 8,000 from Western countries.