American who joined, escaped Daesh jailed for 20 years

Mohammed Khweis
Updated 28 October 2017

American who joined, escaped Daesh jailed for 20 years

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: More than 100 people in the US have been charged with trying to help Daesh, or trying to join it, but Mohammed Khweis stood out because he succeeded.
Khweis, 27, the only American citizen to be convicted in a US jury trial of successfully joining Daesh overseas, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Friday.
Khweis, from Alexandria, Virginia, was convicted on terrorism charges earlier this year. Khweis traveled to Daesh-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria in December 2015, even obtaining an official membership card. But he found life there distasteful and escaped after a few months.
He surrendered in northern Iraq to Kurdish forces, who broadcast his capture around the world.
The vast majority of people charged in US courts with Daesh-related terrorism offenses ran afoul of sting operations in which the suspects thought they had made a connection with the terrorist group, only to find out that their supposed contacts were actually undercover informants or agents.
The unique nature of Khweis’ crime merited a strong sentence, said prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick, who argued for 35 years in prison.
“This defendant executed his plan to perfection. He got into the Islamic State (Daesh). He was in their machinery. He was providing himself and his services to the organization,” Fitzpatrick said.
Once he made it to the Daesh territory in late 2015, he “became the consummate utility player for the Islamic State (Daesh),” said prosecutor Raj Parekh.
“When ISIS (Daesh) needed his blood, he allowed them to draw it. When ISIS needed him to cook and clean for wounded soldiers, Mohammed Khweis multitasked and filled that role as well.”
One thing Khweis never did, his lawyers said, was take up arms on behalf of Daesh.
“While he was there, he did not fight. He did not do harm to another human being,” defense attorney John Zwerling said.
Zwerling agreed with the suggestion from prosecutors that Khweis’ case is unique because he is one of the few Americans to actually make it to Daesh territory.
But he said his client deserves a measure of credit for leaving Daesh on his own, and cooperating with authorities by providing them intelligence on the group’s inner workings.
He also helped authorities identify four Westerners who had left Daesh with intentions to do harm in their home countries.
“He provided valuable, actionable intelligence,” Zwerling said. “And the government has given him zero credit for any of it.”
Zwerling argued it was counterproductive to punish Khweis with decades in prison, because it sends the message to other Americans who might consider abandoning Daesh that they have nothing to look forward to in the US but a prison cell.
Zwerling and defense attorney Jessica Carmichael argued for a five-year sentence.
Khweis did not speak at Friday’s sentencing hearing in US District Court in Alexandria.
In a letter to the court, he apologized for his actions and said: “When I arrived in Syria reality hit me. I couldn’t believe what I had done and where I was at. I hated myself for making the worst decision I ever made in my life.”
Despite a trial in which Khweis took the stand in his own defense, his motivations for joining Daesh remain a mystery.
He testified that he was curious about what life was like in Daesh’s self-proclaimed caliphate, but even his own attorneys acknowledged that Khweis’ testimony was riddled with lies.
“The record is void of what motivated him, what got him to go,” Zwerling said.
Khweis grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Fairfax County, just outside the nation’s capital, graduating in 2007 from Edison High School.
Before leaving for the Middle east in 2015, he worked as a bus driver for the elderly and disabled in the region’s Metro system.
His parents emigrated from the Middle East and he grew up as a Muslim, but was not particularly religious.
His parents, who attended Friday’s hearing, declined to comment.
“There is no event, no instigator, no friend ... no suicidal ideation that radicalized you,” Judge Liam O’Grady said before imposing his sentence, “but there is no question you did radicalize.”


Biden slams Trump friendship with ‘thug’ Kim

Updated 23 October 2020

Biden slams Trump friendship with ‘thug’ Kim

  • Trump insists that he has avoided war through his summits with Kim Jong Un
  • Trump calls India, China air ‘filthy’ as he hits Biden’s stance on climate change

NASHVILLE, USA: Democratic candidate Joe Biden on Thursday denounced President Donald Trump for befriending North Korea’s “thug” leader, likening his diplomacy to working with Hitler.
In a sharp clash in their final presidential debate, Biden attacked Trump’s insistence that he has avoided war through his summits with Kim Jong Un.
“He’s talked about his good buddy, who’s a thug,” Biden said of the young North Korean leader.
“That’s like saying we had a good relationship with Hitler before he invaded Europe — the rest of Europe. Come on.”
But Biden indicated he was also willing to meet with Kim, saying his condition would be that Pyongyang works to make the Korean peninsula “a nuclear-free zone.”
Trump said that former president Barack Obama had left him “a mess” on North Korea and had warned him of the risk of “nuclear war.”
After the summits, “we have a very good relationship. And there’s no war,” said Trump, who also played down North Korea’s recent unveiling of a massive new long-range missile at a military parade.
“He didn’t like Obama,” Trump said of Kim not meeting the former president. “He didn’t like him. He wouldn’t do it.”
Biden, who was vice president under Obama, hit back that Obama would not meet Kim because he was pushing stronger sanctions.
“President Obama said we’re going to talk about denuclearization. We’re not going to legitimize you.”
Trump first met in June 2018 with Kim in Singapore, the first-ever summit between the countries still technically at war, and later said that the two leaders “fell in love.”
The two leaders have met two more times and North Korea has since held off on nuclear and missile tests but analysts say Pyongyang has kept advancing its weapons programs.

Climate change
On climate change, Trump described the air in India and China as “filthy” as he denounced Biden’s plans to tackle the controversial issue.
“Look at China, how filthy it is. Look at Russia, look at India — it’s filthy. The air is filthy,” Trump said.
Trump charged that Biden’s climate plan was an “economic disaster” for oil states such as Texas and Oklahoma.
Biden said that climate change is “an existential threat to humanity. We have a moral obligation to deal with it.”
“We’re going to pass the point of no return within the next eight to 10 years,” he said.
The planet has already warmed by around one degree Celsius (34 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels, enough to boost the intensity of deadly heat waves, droughts and tropical storms.
Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, which aims to cap global warming “well below” two degrees Celsius.
Trump’s remarks come days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper visit New Delhi for talks on building the growing US-India partnership.
At the first presidential debate, Trump also spoke critically of India, questioning its coronavirus data amid criticism of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.