SINJAR, IRAQ/WASHINGTON - An American Islamic State member detained by Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq says he had been with the militant group for more than two months, according to Kurdish authorities.
Mohamad Jamal Khweis, a Virginia-born U.S. citizen, was captured Monday by Kurdish forces near the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq. Kurdish officials told VOA that they continue to interrogate him and are trying to unravel details of his alleged life under IS.
“The terrorist is currently being held by our forces,” Kurdish commander Daham Hussein told VOA at the base where Khweis was detained. “He is under investigation for now.”
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. “We, according to our counterterrorism law, will investigate the suspect and leave the course of action to the rule of law."
The U.S. State Department said officials are “in touch with Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to determine the veracity of these reports," following news of Khweis's capture.
Kurdish officials said the U.S. government has not reached out to them to inquire about the case.
The case is complicated in that the Iraqi government is the ultimate legal authority over the Kurdish region and any extradition proceedings would have to go through Baghdad, Kurdish officials say.
Contacted by VOA on Tuesday, Khweis’s father in Virginia refused further comment on his son's capture. Jamal Khweis, in an exclusive interview on Monday with VOA, said he tried to get more information from U.S. authorities.
“I went to the State Department to inquire about my son,” he said. “They didn’t help…I won’t talk to reporters until the U.S. government confirms my son’s capture.”
His son 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 commander Hussein, who was present during the arrest.
VOA’s Rikar Hussein and State Department correspondent Pam Dockins contributed to this report from Washington