A 26-year-old American who claims to be a runaway ISIS fighter spoke out Thursday, three days after surrendering to Kurdish military forces, saying he "made a bad decision" to go to Iraq and join the terrorist organization.
"At the time, I made the decision to go because I wasn't thinking straight," a man identified as Mohamad Jamal Khweis, of Virginia, said in a heavily edited interview with Kurdistan24. "On the way there, I regretted (my decision), I wanted to go back. So after things didn't work out, I didn't see myself living in that environment. You know, I wanted to go back to America."
Khweis arrived in the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul in January and said he quickly realized he neither agreed with the group's ideology nor supported it. He decided he "needed to escape," he said.
"My message to the American people is the life in Mosul, it's really, really bad," Khweis said in the 16-plus minute video in which he described his journey from the U.S. into ISIS-controlled territory, and his decision to flee after approximately one month. "The people who are controlling Mosul don't represent the religion ... I don't see them as good Muslims."
The Kurdistan Region Security Council said Wednesday that Khweis was apprehended March 14 by Peshmerga forces near Sinjar, Iraq, for attempting to enter Kurdistan from Mosul. It wasn't clear whether he would be prosecuted or returned to the U.S.
"Mr. Khweis travelled through Turkey to Syria in December 2015 accompanied by a young Iraqi woman," the council said in a statement. "He arrived in Iraq in late January and later fled, he claims, to return home. The journey from the United States included stopovers in a number of European countries."
As ABC News reports, Kurdish officials said Khweis was among a small group of ISIS fighters with whom they exchanged fire a day before the surrender. In the video below, which appears to show Khweis surrender, the man identifies himself as an American citizen.
Khweis said in the interview that his Palestinian parents moved to the U.S. nearly 30 years ago and raised him in Virginia, where he studied criminal justice in college. He described his journey from the U.S. into ISIS-controlled territory, and his decision to flee after approximately one month in Mosul.
Watch the full-length interview in English here.