If you’re going to join ISIS, you might want to have a better reason than “just to check things out.” A Virginia man who said that was why he briefly joined the extremist group was convicted on terrorism charges Wednesday and faces a minimum of five years behind bars.
Mohamad Khweis, a 27-year-old former Metro Access bus driver in Fairfax County, quit his job, sold his car and traveled to Iraq and Syria in December 2015 entirely undetected by U.S. intelligence agencies.
“He wanted to find out how they could justify some of this stuff,” Khweis’ defense attorney John Zwerling argued in court, according to the Washington Post. “It’s not a crime to explore, to try to see some of this information for yourself.”
Khweis was smuggled across the Turkish border after which he stayed in an ISIS safe house in Raqqa, Syria, and pledged to be a suicide bomber during the ISIS “intake process,” according to a statement released by the Justice Department.
But after two and a half months of training in different safe houses, Khweis got cold feet and surrendered to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq.
“Hello, can you please help me,” Khweis claimed he said, according to the Post. “I’m an American. . . . I want to go back home.”
A Virginia federal district court within hours convicted Khweis of providing and conspiring to provide material support to ISIS, for which he could be given a maximum penalty of life in prison.
“No one joins an organization like the Islamic State, that is renowned for its terror, its lethality, its brutality, just to check it out,” said Raj Parekh, a DOJ trial attorney in his closing arguments, according to the Post. “This is not a tourist destination; this is not an amusement park . . . He knew exactly what he was getting himself into.”
In 2015, a congressional report estimated that over 250 Americans had joined or tried to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Between March 2014 and August 2016, there were at least 112 cases of individuals who perpetrated ISIS-related offenses indicted by the U.S. Justice Department, according to a separate study by the Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST).
U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed to “totally obliterate” ISIS and to keep ISIS fighters “the hell out of our country.”