To his teachers and peers, Mohamad Khweis of northern Virginia didn’t really stand out. Friends said he was a soft-spoken teenager in high school and showed no signs of being a devout Muslim.
However, Khweis, 26, of Alexandria, is alleged to have joined the Islamic State, or ISIS, before he surrendered to Kurdish authorities in March. He was flown back to the United States to face terror-related charges.
On June 9, charges against Khweis were unsealed, including providing material support to a terrorist group, ISIS.
A number of Americans are known to have joined—or have been seeking to join—ISIS, but Khweis is the first to have been captured in combat. When he surrendered, Khweis said he renounced the terrorist group, saying it clashed with the tenets of Islam, describing life there as “really, really bad” in a Kurdish TV interview, reported CNN. “I found it very, very hard to live there,” Khweis added, according to the Washington Post.
He is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
FBI Special Agent Victoria I. Martinez alleged that he moved to safehouses operated by ISIS, which is also known as ISIL or IS, during his time overseas. He admitted in an interview that he also told a member of the organization he wanted to be a suicide bomber in response to a question he thought was meant to test his loyalty to ISIS.
Khweis was “inspired to join ISIL because he saw that they had established an Islamic caliphate and were in the process of expanding it,” Martinez stated.
When he was interrogated by U.S. investigators while in Kurdish custody, Khweis said he started researching ISIS before he left the U.S. in December 2015.
“During the interview, the defendant stated he ‘gave himself’ to ISIL and that they controlled him. The defendant stated he was aware that ISIL wants to attack and destroy the United States,” an affidavit from an FBI agent reads, according to NBC News. “The defendant stated that ISIL wants America to be taken over.”
Khweis said on TV that he was born and raised in Virginia, the son of Palestinian immigrants who came to the U.S. decades ago.
The Post reported that a yearbook from his senior year shows that he participated in extracurricular activities, and friends said he was soft-spoken and wore designer shoes. “He was a good, kindhearted person,” said a family friend.
Court records show that he had been charged with more than two dozen traffic and other minor violations, including a DWI and trespassing between 2007 and 2012. He completed more than 50 hours of community service and paid hundreds in fines.
He left the U.S. in December from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Turkey, according to the affidavit. He sold his car before leaving the country.
Martinez added: “The defendant stated that he knew ISIL used violence in its expansion of the caliphate, but he also stated that ISIL engaged in peaceful and humanitarian efforts.”
In Turkey, he then made contact with ISIS facilitators who smuggled him and others into Syria, and stayed in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa during the month of January, according to the affidavit.
ISIS officials told him that recruits would be trained to go back to their home countries to carry out terrorist attacks on behalf of ISIS, but Khweis said he never agreed to participate in the operation.