WASHINGTON - An American who traveled to Syria to fight for Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate has pleaded guilty to terror charges, a year after he was returned to the United States.
The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday that Omer Kuzu, 23, had pleaded guilty of conspiring to provide material support to terrorism.
The Dallas, Texas, native faces up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing is set for January 2021.
“This defendant, an American citizen radicalized on American soil, pledged allegiance to a brutal terrorist group and traveled halfway across the world to enact its agenda,” U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox said in a statement. “I am gratified Mr. Kuzu faced justice in an American court.”
According to court papers, Kuzu admitted leaving the U.S. with his brother in October 2014, against the wishes of their parents, to join IS.
The brothers, who held dual U.S.-Turkish citizenship, then made their way to Istanbul before being smuggled into Syria.
Kuzu said that shortly after arriving in Syria, they were taken to Mosul, Iraq, where they trained.
Once back in Syria, he pledged allegiance to then-IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and began working for the terror group’s telecom directorate, repairing communication equipment for frontline fighters, earning $125 a month.
Officials said Kuzu was captured by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces last March, along with 400 other IS fighters, near the Syrian village of Dashisha.
Upon his return to the U.S., Kuzu told investigators he had a wife and child, but their fate and that of his brother remains unclear.
Since 2017, the U.S. has repatriated eight adults and 10 children from Syria and Iraq.
Mohamad Jamal Khweis of Virginia was convicted on terror charges.
Another, Samantha Elhassani, pleaded guilty last November.
Samantha ElHassani - one of six US adults repatriated from #Syria or #Iraq to face charges of supporting #ISIS - pleads guilty to financing terrorism— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) November 26, 2019
ElHassani admitted she transported $30k in gold/jewels out of the US to be used by ISIShttps://t.co/INOzjnnFTU
Charges against three others are pending. Two women who were repatriated last June have not been charged.
What to do with IS foreign fighters and their families has been a source of debate among the U.S. and its allies since the terror group’s caliphate collapsed.
The U.S. has long been pushing for countries to repatriate those who left to join IS, but many countries, especially those in Western Europe, have been reluctant to do so.
“The Department of Justice remains committed to holding accountable those who have left this country in order to join and support ISIS,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a statement Wednesday, using an acronym for the terror group. “We hope countries around the world, including our European allies and partners, will likewise take responsibility for their own citizens who traveled to support ISIS.”
The SDF continues to hold about 2,000 foreign fighters in makeshift prisons in northeastern Syria. Another estimated 10,000 foreign women and children reside in displaced-persons camps in the region.