American ISIS fighter: I made a bad decision

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) -- The American Islamic State group fighter who handed himself over to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq earlier this week said he made "a bad decision" in joining the IS, according to a heavily edited interview he gave to an Iraqi Kurdish television station.

In the TV interview, which aired late Thursday night, Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 26, from Alexandria, Virginia detailed his weeks-long journey from the United States to London, Amsterdam, Turkey, through Syria and finally to the IS-controlled Iraqi city of Mosul.

Once in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city that was captured by the Islamic State in the summer of 2014, Khweis was moved into a house with dozens of other foreign fighters, he told the Kurdistan 24 station.

Khweis said he met an Iraqi woman with ties to IS in Turkey who arranged his travel into Syria and then across the border into Iraq. In Mosul, Khweis said he began more than a month of intensive Islamic studies and it was then he decided to try and flee.

"I didn't agree with their ideology," he said, explaining why he decided to escape a few weeks after arriving. "I made a bad decision to go with the girl and go to Mosul."

Khweis said a friend helped him escape from Mosul to the nearby city of Tal Afar. From there he walked toward Kurdish troops. "I wanted to go to the Kurdish side," he said, "because I know they are good with the Americans."

The surrender took place on the front lines near the town of Sinjar, which was retaken by Iraqi forces from IS militants late last year. In the past year, IS fighters have lost large amounts of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Khweis is currently being held by Kurdish forces for interrogation.

Though such defections are rare, Syrian Kurdish fighters battling IS have told The Associated Press that they are seeing an increase in the number of IS members surrendering following recent territorial losses. As the militants lose territory, U.S. officials predict there will be more desertions.

"I wasn't thinking straight," Khweis said in the TV interview.

"My message to the American people is that the life in Mosul is really, really bad," he said, adding that he doesn't believe the Islamic State group accurately represents Islam.

U.S. analyst Seth Jones with the RAND Corporation said much can be gleamed about the way the Islamic State operates from Khweis' account and his "defection" from the militant group.

"He wasn't a senior member of the Islamic State, of ISIS, but he did at least use their network to get himself into the region," Jones said from Arlington, Virginia. "So he's going to know a number of things about the pipeline to get into Iraq and Syria, the key individuals at least that he associated with on his way there."

Jones, who heads the International Security and Defense Policy Center, also said Khweis' account is valuable, because "this is someone who was inside a training camp, wo was getting indoctrinated."

"That's a much more powerful narrative to undermine the ideology," he added. "What we see now with his defection is that the picture he's painting of what life is like in cities like Mosul is not as good as the selling points."

The United Nations estimated that around 30,000 so-called foreign fighters from 100 countries are actively working with the Islamic State group, al-Qaida or other extremist groups. An earlier estimate by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, a think-tank at King's College London, said IS fighters include 3,300 Western Europeans and 100 or so Americans.


Associated Press Writer Ben Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.