Going to Iraq was a “bad decision,” said a 26-year-old Virginia man who was taken into custody by Kurdish military forces after deserting Islamic State (IS).
Mohamad Khweis, who had been with IS for a month, recounted his time with the Islamic militant group to a Kurdish TV station Thursday, NBC News reported. Describing strict and hard living conditions, Mr. Khweis said he decided to escape when he realized he didn’t share the same ideology with the terrorist group.
“It was pretty hard to live in Mosul," the IS recruit said. “It’s not like the Western countries, you know, it’s very strict. There’s no smoking. I found it hard for everyone there.”
"I don't see them as good Muslims," he added. "I wanted to go back to America."
Khweis, the American-born son of Palestinian immigrants, detailed his journey to Iraq, saying that he “wasn’t thinking straight” at the time. He first left the United States for Europe, traveling to Amsterdam, and then Turkey. In Turkey, he met a woman from Mosul who knew how they could get to Syria. From Syria, he was transferred to Mosul – a city in northern Iraq seized by IS militants in 2014 – alongside ten other men.
"I made a bad decision to go with the girl and go to Mosul,” Khweis said.
His televised comments come several days after Islamic State documents containing information on thousands of purported IS members, including some Americans, were leaked. The documents detail IS recruiting activities, including how western fighters have to choose between becoming a fighter or a suicide bomber.
It also comes at a time where US officials are seeing evidence of more people defecting from the militant group. Following the capture of Khweis earlier this week, State Department spokesman John Kirby said that more fighters are becoming “disenchanted with the effort that they signed up for,” reports the Daily Beast.
Meanwhile, US officials launched an investigation on Khweis this week, calling the ex-IS fighter a “gold mine” for intelligence officials who are seeking to know how the terrorist group recruits its fighters, and particularly American citizens.
"He could provide a window into the ISIS command structure," said Seamus Hughes, a former US National Counterterrorism Center official, who is now a deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, according to NBC News. "Who does he report to? What does his daily routine look like? And the most important thing – how did he get there?"
It isn’t clear whether Khweis will be prosecuted. But “the easiest charges to bring would probably be for providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization or receiving military-style training from ISIS,” Robert Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told The Daily Beast. He could also be charged “under laws that make it illegal for US citizens to join in the overthrow of a foreign sovereign."
As for Americans wishing to join Islamic State, Khweis' advice is simple: life there is difficult.
"My message to the American people is the life in Mosul, it's really, really bad. The people [who] were controlling Mosul don't represent the religion," he said.