ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) - In an exclusive interview with Kurdistan24 on Tuesday, Mohamad Jamal Khweis, an American-Palestinian Islamic State (IS) fighter revealed his story of joining the extremist group.
Khweis is a 26-year-old US citizen from the State of Virginia, where he completed high school and received a degree in Criminal Justice from a college. On Monday, he surrendered himself to Kurdish Peshmerga forces near the city of Sinjar (Shingal) in northern Iraq. Khweis' parents moved from the Palestinian Territories to the United States about “27-28 years ago.”
“I attended a mosque in America, but not that often…I left the States in the middle of December 2015 and went to Europe. I first went to the UK," Khweis said
From London, he moved to Amsterdam and then to Turkey where he met an Iraqi woman whose sister was married to an IS fighter. The pair found contacts who took them to Syria and then to Mosul. “First, we took a bus from Istanbul to Gaziantep…From there, a driver picked us up and took us to the border and then [we went] from Syria to Iraq.”
“I don’t know the exact places we passed by, but [we arrived] in Mosul on January 16,” Khweis said.
In the IS-controlled territories, the recruit was stripped of his identification cards and was given the nickname "Abu Omar." He then lived with 70 foreign fighters in one house until he was transported to Mosul.
In the new location, he would spend most of his day in religion classes. "Our daily life was basically prayer, eating, and learning about the religion for about eight hours."
But the lessons the Imam preached did not seem acceptable to Khweis. "I didn't complete the whole Sharia [Islamic Law]. I didn't agree with their ideology. That's when I wanted to escape."
The American fighter also explained that the living conditions in Mosul were very difficult. “It is not like Western countries. It is very strict and no smoking there. There are a lot of foreign fighters walking around with weapons, and many are from Central and South Asia," he said.
Reflecting on his time in Mosul, he stated, “I stayed there about a month, and I found it very, very hard to live there. I decided to return home [US],” he continued. “I found someone who could take me back to Turkey. First, he said he could help me, but then he said it will be difficult to take me all the way to Turkey. He told me he will take me close to Turkey’s border.”
Khweis then decided to cross the Kurdish frontlines and contact the Peshmerga forces.
“I made a bad decision to go...to Mosul. At the time I made the decision, I was not thinking straight. On the way there, I regretted. I wanted to go back home. After things didn’t work out and I couldn't see myself living in such an environment,” he added.
"I wanted to go to the Kurds' side because I know that they are good with the Americans. And I decided to make my journey to go and meet with the Kurds. And when I met with the Kurds, they treated me very well. And I am happy I made that decision," he said.
He concluded by addressing people of the United States. “My message to the American people is that life in Mosul is really very bad. The people who control Mosul don’t represent a religion. Daesh [IS] does not represent a religion. I don’t see them as good Muslims.”
Reporting by Goran Shakhawan and Mewan Dolamari
Editing by Benjamin Kweskin and Ava Homa