American IS Member Surrenders to Kurdish Forces in Iraq

An American member of Islamic State has surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq, near the town of Sinjar.

Sarbaz Hama Amin, a Kurdish Peshmerga commander in Iraq, told VOA his forces noticed the suspect while on patrol Monday.

“Our Peshmergas who were patrolling the frontline said they saw something unusual and started firing at it. That thing disappeared after we fired at it but our Peshmergas started looking for it. After it became light after 5:00 am, he screamed at as and told us in English, ‘who can talk to me? I want to come to you.’ But our Peshmergas didn’t understand English,” Amin said.  “He spoke a very limited Arabic and asked if anyone spoke English. After Peshmergas made sure he had no explosives on, we arrested him and took him to the camp where he said he wanted to surrender.”

Amin added that the suspect told them his father was Palestinian.

A picture of the suspect’s Virginia state driver’s license, sent to VOA, identifies him as Mohamed Jamal Khweis.

“The fighter might possibly have come from the Talafar town controlled by IS because that place is the closest frontline to us,” Amin said. “He had Turkish money and some dollars. He also had a visa card and an American driver’s license.”

In Washington, a U.S. State Department official said “We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen that was allegedly fighting for Da’esh (IS) has been captured by Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.  We are in touch with Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to determine the veracity of these reports.”

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga Gen. Hashem Sitayi told VOA the suspect traveled through Turkey to Syria to join Islamic State.

An American identified as Mohamed Jamal Khweis, accused of being a member of the Islamic State group, has surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.

An American identified as Mohamed Jamal Khweis, accused of being a member of the Islamic State group, has surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.

Family responds

At the family’s townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia, Mohamed Khweis’s parents were awakened Monday morning by a VOA reporter and cameraman and told about the reports of their son’s capture.

They had no idea their son was in Iraq or had ties with any extremist groups, the mother and father said. They said they had not been in contact with their son for a long time.

“I had had no idea he was in Iraq,” his father told VOA, declining in Arabic to give his name but admitting Khweis is his son. “I’m not even sure it’s really him who has been arrested,” the father said.

Khweis’s family said they would contact U.S. authorities to check the authenticity of news of their son’s arrest in Iraq.

“We thought he was in Canada lately,” said a woman who identified herself as his mother. “We also know he has been traveling to Turkey.”

Khweis’s parents said they are of Palestinian background. The father said he came to the U.S. in 1988.

When shown a published photo of Khweis in Kurdish custody, the family said they are not certain.

“The guy in the picture is not my brother,” insisted Tamer Khweis, a college student and a younger brother of Mohammed Khweis.

“There are similarities, but I can’t confirm because the picture isn’t clear,” his mother said.

The family said their son’s personal belongings might have been stolen and have ended up in Iraq.

VOA’s Sharon Behn and Ali Javanmardi contributed to this report from Irbil. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins and Rikar Hussein contributed from Washington.