U.S. law enforcement authorities said Wednesday they have started an investigation into how an American ended up joining Islamic State jihadists in Iraq before he was captured this week by Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
The U.S. military said it does not have the manpower in Iraq to question all the Islamic State fighters who are captured and is not interested in the case of Mohamad Jamal Khweis, a Virginia-born U.S. citizen who says he was with Islamic State for two months before being detained by Kurdish forces near the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq. But U.S. criminal investigators said they are probing Khweis's activities.
The Kurdistan Regional Security Council said the 26-year-old Khweis was apprehended as he attempted to enter Kurdish territory from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul in Iraq.
Kurdish authorities said Khweis, accompanied by a young Iraqi woman, made numerous stops in European countries en route to the Middle East, eventually traveling through Turkey to Syria in December. Authorities said he arrived in Iraq in late January and told them he later fled to return home.
Kurdish officials said they have contacted U.S. officials about Khweis and that he is being "questioned by relevant security authorities." They said he is being "provided the care afforded to him under international and local law."
It remains unclear, though, how long Khweis has been in contact with IS or how he was recruited. His family told VOA that Khweis made frequent trips to the Middle East.
Kurdish officials say they obtained his driver’s license, credit cards, cell phones and cash when he was captured.
“All we can confirm is that he surrendered to Peshmerga forces and claimed he was an American IS member,” Jabar Yawar, the chief of staff for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Peshmerga Ministry, told VOA earlier this week. "We, according to our counterterrorism law, will investigate the suspect and leave the course of action to the rule of law."
Khweis initially told Kurdish forces who arrested him that he ran into the Kurdish Peshmerga base by mistake, thinking it was a Turkish border patrol outpost.
“He had no weapons on him, only personal belongings,” said one Kurdish commander who was present during the arrest.