Mohamad Jamal Khweis, the Virginia resident taken into custody by Kurdish fighters after he bailed on the Islamic State, delivered the understatement of the year when he told a Kurdish TV interviewer that he “made a bad decision” by joining ISIS and “was not thinking straight.”
He was was trying to impress a girl, he claimed. “We spent some time together, and she said that she is from Mosul, Iraq,” Khweis said of a woman he claimed to have met while traveling in Turkey, as transcribed by Fox News.
One thing led to another and suddenly Khweis found himself on a bus to Mosul, developing regrets in transit. He said he “wanted to go back home after things didn’t work out, and I saw myself living in such an environment,” which sounds like John Goodman explaining why he broke out of prison in Raising Arizona.
“It is not like Western countries. It is very strict and no smoking there,” Khweis said of the terror state. “I found it very, very hard to live there. I found someone who could take me back to Turkey. First he told me that he will take me, but then he said it will be difficult to take me all the way to Turkey. He told me he will take me near Turkey’s border.”
Khweis ended up wandering into a peshmerga camp — where ISIS jihadis are not generally welcomed as guests — mistakenly believing he had found a Turkish border patrol. After firing a few warning shots, the Kurds decided he wasn’t a suicide bomber and took him into custody.
He told his Kurdish interviewer that his message for the American people was, “Life in Mosul is really very bad. The people who control Mosul don’t represent a religion. Daesh does not represent a religion. I don’t see them as good Muslims.”
NBC News reports that during the interview, Khweis talked about the Islamic State’s religious indoctrination program: “There was an imam who taught us the sharia and the religion. I didn’t complete the whole sharia. I didn’t agree with their ideology and that’s when I wanted to escape.”
He said daily life in ISIS-held Mosul consisted of “prayer, eating, and learning about the religion for eight hours.”
“I made a bad decision to go with the girl and go to Mosul. At the time I made a decision to go because I wasn’t thinking straight, and on the way there I regretted — I wanted to go back,” he said, to summarize his misadventure.
If Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were still around, they could buy the rights to his story and make a Road to Mosul picture.
Fox News expressed a certain degree of skepticism about Khweis’s tale, noting it was “not immediately possible to establish the woman’s identity, whether she was a member of ISIS, her ultimate fate or whether she even existed” and that “apart from his encounter with the Iraqi woman, he did not offer any other reason for why he joined ISIS.”
Also skeptical of Khweis’s self-portrayal as a lovable goofball who chased tail into the hellish Islamic State, then stumbled around Mosul for a month before deciding jihad wasn’t for him: American intelligence officials, who are “eager to question” him, according to NBC News.
“He would be an intelligence gold mine,” said former counterterrorism official Seamus Hughes, who noted Khweis is thought to be the first American ISIS recruit to surrender in the field.
“He could provide a window into the ISIS command structure. Who does he report to? What does his daily routine look like? And the most important thing — how did he get there?” said Hughes.
Other officials believed Khweis could provide useful information on how ISIS is still getting Western recruits across its supposedly sealed borders and what it uses them for.
Interestingly, the NBC report notes the Justice Department has not yet announced plans to prosecute Khweis, and he doesn’t seem to have left any social media footprints connecting him with ISIS, which would either lend some credence to his story of making a snap decision based on a random encounter in Turkey, or indicate he’s clever enough to use an online alias to hide his tracks.
“He’s 26, almost 27. He’s a grown man, just like you,” the elder Khweis yelled at reporters, while also claiming they had the “wrong information” about him and possibly even striking a camerawoman, according to a complaint from one TV station.