American regrets ‘bad decision’ to travel to ISIS stronghold

Back in America, Khweis’ travel to Iraq to join ISIS is being investigated by the FBI, according to law enforcement officials.

Authorities expect to seek his return to the United States to face criminal charges, the officials said. Investigators are trying to to verify his account of the journey.

Investigators are concerned that the first time they knew Khweis had traveled to join jihadists was after his capture, law enforcement officials said. His family had not told law enforcement of any concerns — if they had any — after he left the United States in December, according to the officials.

In his interview with Kurdistan24, Khweis did not speak much about his life in America. He said he studied criminal justice in Virginia. He occasionally attended mosques. In December, he left for London, then Amsterdam. He later stopped in Turkey, where he met a young woman.

She invited him to Syria. Some time later they arrived in Raqqa, now the capital of ISIS’ self-declared caliphate. At some point, he said, the couple was split up and he ended up with a team of ISIS fighters.

Along the way, Khweis said he spent time at a house where ISIS kept foreign jihadists. The foreigners were ordered to hand over their ID and passports and take a Bay’ah, or oath of allegiance to ISIS, he said.

Later, at another house, Khweis said he met more foreigners — from Asia, Russia, Uzbekistan and other countries. Each man was given a nickname. Khweis was called Abu Omar. After a transfer to yet another house, he was joined by at least 70 other foreigners.

The Islamist extremist group has taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria, and it has staged attacks elsewhere. It has done so with recruits from not only the Middle East, but other places, including Western countries such as the United States.

The ISIS terror threat Syrian pro-government forces gather at the site of a deadly triple bombing Sunday, January 31, in the lt;a href=quot;; target=quot;_blankquot;gt;Damascus suburb of Sayeda Zeynablt;/agt;. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, according to a statement circulating online from supporters of the terrorist group.Yemenis check the scene of a car bomb attack Sunday, December 6, in Aden, Yemen. lt;a href=quot;;gt;Aden Gov. Jaafar Saad and six bodyguards died in the attacklt;/agt;, for which the terror group ISIS claimed responsibility.Yemenis check the scene of a car bomb attack Sunday, December 6, in Aden, Yemen. lt;a href=quot;;gt;Aden Gov. Jaafar Saad and six bodyguards died in the attacklt;/agt;, for which the terror group ISIS claimed responsibility.Investigators check the scene of a mosque attack Friday, November 27, in northern Bangladeshs Bogra district. lt;a href=quot;; target=quot;_blankquot;gt;ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacklt;/agt; that left at least one person dead and three more wounded.Wounded people are helped outside the Bataclan concert hall in Paris following a series of coordinated attacks in the city on Friday, November 13. The militant group ISIS claimed responsibility lt;a href=quot;; target=quot;_blankquot;gt;for the attacks,lt;/agt; which killed at least 130 people and wounded hundreds more.Emergency personnel and civilians gather at the site of a lt;a href=quot;; target=quot;_blankquot;gt;twin suicide bombinglt;/agt; in Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday, November 12. The bombings killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 200 more. ISIS appeared to claim responsibility in a statement posted on social media.Smoke rises over the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar on November 12. Kurdish Iraqi fighters, backed by a U.S.-led air campaign, lt;a href=quot;; target=quot;_blankquot;gt;retook the strategic town, lt;/agt;which ISIS militants overran last year. ISIS wants to create an Islamic state across Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria.Syrian government troops walk inside the Kweiras air base on Wednesday, November 11, after they broke a siege imposed by ISIS militants.Members of the Egyptian military approach the wreckage of a Russian passenger plane Sunday, November 1, in Hassana, Egypt. lt;a href=quot;; target=quot;_blankquot;gt;The plane crashedlt;/agt; the day before, killing all 224 people on board. ISIS claimed responsibility for downing the plane, but the groups claim wasnt immediately verified.An explosion rocks Kobani, Syria, during a reported car bomb attack by ISIS militants on Tuesday, October 20.Shiite fighters, fighting alongside Iraqi government forces, fire a rocket at ISIS militants as they advance toward the center of Baiji, Iraq, on Monday, October 19.Smoke rises above a damaged building in Ramadi, Iraq, following a coalition airstrike against ISIS positions on Saturday, August 15.Iraqi men look at damage following a bomb explosion that targeted a vegetable market in Baghdad on Thursday, August 13. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. In this image taken from social media, an ISIS fighter holds the groups flag after the militant group lt;a href=quot;; target=quot;_blankquot;gt;overran the Syrian town of al-Qaryataynlt;/agt; on Thursday, August 6, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.An ISIS fighter poses with spoils purportedly taken after capturing the Syrian town of al-Qaryatayn.Smoke rises as Iraqi security forces bomb ISIS positions in the eastern suburbs of Ramadi, Iraq, on August 6.Buildings reduced to piles of debris can be seen in the eastern suburbs of Ramadi on August 6.The governor of the Asir region in Saudi Arabia, Prince Faisal bin Khaled bin Abdulaziz, left, visits a man who was wounded in lt;a href=quot;; target=quot;_blankquot;gt;a suicide bombing attack on a mosquelt;/agt; in Abha, Saudi Arabia, on August 6. ISIS claimed responsibility for the explosion, which killed at least 13 people and injured nine others.Saudi officials and investigators check the inside of the mosque on August 6.Mourners in Gaziantep, Turkey, grieve over a coffin Tuesday, July 21, during a funeral ceremony for the victims of a suspected ISIS suicide bomb attack. lt;a href=quot;;gt;That bombing killed at least 31 peoplelt;/agt; in Suruc, a Turkish town that borders Syria. Turkish authorities blamed ISIS for the attack.Protesters in Istanbul carry anti-ISIS banners and flags to show support for victims of the Suruc suicide blast during a demonstration on Monday, July 20.People in Ashmoun, Egypt, carry the coffin for 1st Lt. Mohammed Ashraf, who was killed when the ISIS militant group lt;a href=quot;; target=quot;_blankquot;gt;attacked Egyptian military checkpointslt;/agt; on Wednesday, July 1. At least 17 soldiers were reportedly killed, and 30 were injured.Syrians wait near the Turkish border during clashes between ISIS and Kurdish armed groups in Kobani, Syria, on Thursday, June 25. The photo was taken in Sanliurfa, Turkey. ISIS militants disguised as Kurdish security forces infiltrated Kobani on Thursday and killed quot;many civilians,quot; said a spokesman for the Kurds in Kobani.Residents examine a damaged mosque after an Iraqi Air Force bombing in the ISIS-seized city of Falluja, Iraq, on Sunday, May 31. At least six were killed and nine others wounded during the bombing.People search through debris after an explosion at a Shiite mosque in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, on Friday, May 22. ISIS lt;a href=quot;; target=quot;_blankquot;gt;claimed responsibility for the attack,lt;/agt; according to tweets from ISIS supporters, which included a formal statement from ISIS detailing the operation.Iraqi soldiers fire their weapons toward ISIS group positions in the Garma district, west of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, on Sunday, April 26. Pro-government forces said they had recently made advances on areas held by Islamist jihadists.A member of Afghanistans security forces stands at the site where a suicide bomber on a motorbike blew himself up in front of the Kabul Bank in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on Saturday, April 18. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. The explosion killed at least 33 people and injured more than 100 others, a public health spokesman said.Iraqi counterterrorism forces patrol in Ramadi on April 18.Thousands of Iraqis cross a bridge over the Euphrates River to Baghdad as they flee Ramadi on Friday, April 17.Yazidis embrace after being released by ISIS south of Kirkuk, Iraq, on Wednesday, April;a href=quot;;gt; ISIS released more than 200 Yazidislt;/agt;, a minority group whose members were killed, captured and displaced when the Islamist terror organization overtook their towns in northern Iraq last summer, officials said.Kurdish Peshmerga forces help Yazidis as they arrive at a medical center in Altun Kupri, Iraq, on April 8.A Yazidi woman mourns for the death of her husband and children by ISIS after being released south of Kirkuk on April 8.People in Tikrit inspect what used to be a palace of former President Saddam Hussein on April 3.On April 1, Shiite militiamen celebrate the retaking of Tikrit, which had been under ISIS control since June. The push into Tikrit came days after U.S.-led airstrikes targeted ISIS bases around the city.Iraqi security forces launch a rocket against ISIS positions in Tikrit on Monday, March 30.The parents of 19-year-old Mohammed Musallam react at the familys home in the East Jerusalem Jewish settlement of Neve Yaakov on Tuesday, March 10. lt;a href=quot;;gt;ISIS released a video purportedlylt;/agt; showing a young boy executing Musallam, an Israeli citizen of Palestinian descent who ISIS claimed infiltrated the group in Syria to spy for the Jewish state. Musallams family told CNN that he had no ties with the Mossad, Israels spy agency, and had, in fact, been recruited by ISIS.Iraqi Shiite fighters cover their ears as a rocket is launched during a clash with ISIS militants in the town of Al-Alam, Iraq, on Monday, March 9.Displaced Assyrian women who fled their homes due to ISIS attacks pray at a church on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, on Sunday, March 1. ISIS militants abducted at least 220 Assyrians in Syria. Safi al-Kasasbeh, right, receives condolences from tribal leaders at his home village near Karak, Jordan, on Wednesday, February 4. Al-Kasasbehs son, lt;a href=quot;; target=quot;_blankquot;gt;Jordanian pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh,lt;/agt; was burned alive in a video that was recently released by ISIS militants. Jordan is one of a handful of Middle Eastern nations taking part in the U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS.A Kurdish marksman looks over a destroyed area of Kobani on Friday, January 30, after the city had been liberated from the ISIS militant group. The Syrian city, also known as Ayn al-Arab, had been under assault by ISIS since mid-September.Kurdish people celebrate in Suruc, Turkey, near the Turkish-Syrian border, after ISIS militants were expelled from Kobani on Tuesday, January 27.Collapsed buildings are seen in Kobani on January 27 after Kurdish forces took control of the town from ISIS.Junko Ishido, mother of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, reacts during a news conference in Tokyo on Friday, January 23. ISIS would later kill Goto and another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa.ISIS militants are seen through a rifles scope during clashes with Peshmerga fighters in Mosul, Iraq, on Wednesday, January 21.An elderly Yazidi man arrives in Kirkuk after being released by ISIS on Saturday, January 17. The militant group released about 200 Yazidis who were held captive for five months in Iraq. Almost all of the freed prisoners were in poor health and bore signs of abuse and neglect, Kurdish officials said.Smoke billows behind an ISIS sign during an Iraqi military operation to regain control of the town of Sadiyah, about 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad, on Tuesday, November 25.Fighters from the Free Syrian Army and the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units join forces to fight ISIS in Kobani on Wednesday, November 19.A picture taken from Turkey shows smoke rising after ISIS militants fired mortar shells toward an area controlled by Syrian Kurdish fighters near Kobani on Monday, November 3.Iraqi special forces search a house in Jurf al-Sakhar, Iraq, on Thursday, October 30, after retaking the area from ISIS.ISIS militants stand near the site of an airstrike near the Turkey-Syria border on Thursday, October 23. The United States and several Arab nations have been bombing ISIS targets in Syria to take out the militant groups ability to command, train and resupply its fighters.Kurdish fighters walk to positions as they combat ISIS forces in Kobani on Sunday, October 19.Heavy smoke rises in Kobani following an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition on October 18.Cundi Minaz, a female Kurdish fighter, is buried in a cemetery in the southeastern Turkish town of Suruc on Tuesday, October 14. Minaz was reportedly killed during clashes with ISIS militants in nearby Kobani.Kiymet Ergun, a Syrian Kurd, celebrates in Mursitpinar, Turkey, after an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition in Kobani on Monday, October 13.Alleged ISIS militants stand next to an ISIS flag atop a hill in Kobani on Monday, October 6. A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier who was wounded in a battle with ISIS is wheeled to the Zakho Emergency Hospital in Duhuk, Iraq, on Tuesday, September 30.Syrian Kurds wait near a border crossing in Suruc as they wait to return to their homes in Kobani on Sunday, September 28.A elderly man is carried after crossing the Syria-Turkey border near Suruc on Saturday, September 20.A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter launches mortar shells toward ISIS militants in Zumar, Iraq, on Monday, September 15.Kurdish Peshmerga fighters fire at ISIS militant positions from their position on the top of Mount Zardak, east of Mosul, Iraq, on Tuesday, September 9. Displaced Iraqis receive clothes from a charity at a refugee camp near Feeshkhabour, Iraq, on Tuesday, August 19.Aziza Hamid, a 15-year-old Iraqi girl, cries for her father while she and some other Yazidi people are flown to safety Monday, August 11, after a dramatic rescue operation at Iraqs Mount Sinjar. A CNN crew was on the flight, which took diapers, milk, water and food to the site where as many as 70,000 people were trapped by ISIS. But only a few of them were able to fly back on the helicopter with the Iraqi Air Force and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.Thousands of Yazidis are escorted to safety by Kurdish Peshmerga forces and a Peoples Protection Unit in Mosul on Saturday, August 9.Thousands of Yazidi and Christian people flee Mosul on Wednesday, August 6, after the latest wave of ISIS advances.A Baiji oil refinery burns after an alleged ISIS attack in northern Selahaddin, Iraq, on Thursday, July 31.A Syrian rebel fighter lies on a stretcher at a makeshift hospital in Douma, Syria, on Wednesday, July 9. 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Last summer, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported that more than 25,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria, affiliating themselves with various groups to fight or support the conflict there. They came from more than 100 countries.

More than 250 ISIS fighters in Syria are Americans, according to the director of National Intelligence. Khweis said he did not meet one American during his journey.

Khweis told Kurdish television that he was eventually transferred to Mosul, a 10-hour ride in a packed van.

He described life during his monthlong stay in Mosul as “really, really bad.”

“There was an imam, who taught us … the Sharia, and the religion,” Khweis said. “I didn’t complete the whole Sharia. I didn’t agree with their ideology. That’s when I wanted to escape.”

Daily life centered on prayer and hours of religious education.

“It was pretty hard to live in Mosul,” Khweis told Kurdistan24. “It’s not like the Western countries. You know, it’s very strict. There’s no smoking.”

Khweis found someone to deliver him close to Turkish border.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces apprehended him on Monday near Sinjar “for attempting to enter the Kurdistan region from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul,” according to a statement from Kurdistan Regional Security Council.

“I wanted to go to the Kurd side because I know that they’re good with the Americans,” Khweis said.

U.S. officials said this week a man walked out of ISIS-held territory and approached troops in the same area.

Kurdish soldiers, evidently fearing he could be a suicide bomber, fired shots at the man before he said he wanted to turn himself in, according to the U.S. official.

Khweis said he is happy with the decision to surrender.

“My message to the American people is the life in Mosul, it’s really, really bad,” he said. “The people … controlling Mosul don’t represent the religion … I don’t see them as good Muslims.”

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