IRBIL, IRAQ/WASHINGTON – An American fighting for Islamic State was taken into custody in northern Iraq after he left territory controlled by the militant group, according to two Kurdish officers, one of whom arrested him.
Both said it appeared the man was intending to escape both Islamic State and Kurdish forces but handed himself in after peshmerga fighters opened fire on him near the front line in the village of Golat.
Capt. Daham Khalaf said they had spotted the fighter hiding in long grass around dawn and waited until the sun rose before surrounding him. “He shouted, ‘I am a foreigner,'” Khalaf said, describing him as bearded and dressed in black.
The fighter did not have a passport but was carrying an American driving license and spoke English and broken Arabic, according to Gen. Hashim Sitei, who spoke to him.
A copy of what was said to be the license, seen by Reuters, was in the name of Khweis Mohammed Jamal. Reuters was unable to independently confirm the man’s identity.
“We gave him food and treated him with respect and handed him over to military intelligence,” said Sitei.
The fighter was unarmed but carrying three mobile phones and said his father was Palestinian and his mother was from the Mosul area in Iraq, both officers said.
The State Department said it was aware of the reports that a U.S. citizen said to have been fighting for Islamic State was captured by Kurdish peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.
The address on the driver’s license confiscated by the peshmerga was for a residence in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Alexandria, Virginia.
As reporters and television crewmembers waited outside, a black Lincoln Town Car drove up. Two men stepped out and angrily demanded that the media leave.
The older man, who identified himself as Jamal Khweis, grabbed a photographer’s camera as the younger man pushed at the lenses of television cameras.
The man confirmed that he has a son the same age as the American captured by the peshmerga. He said he did not know where his son was, but that he would “never go” to Iraq.
“He is my son. He is a good person,” he said.
More than 250 Americans have joined or tried to fight with the extremist group in Syria and Iraq since 2011, according to a September 2015 bipartisan congressional task force report.
At least 80 men and women have been charged by federal prosecutors for connections to Islamic State, and 27 have been convicted.
A top Islamic State group commander known as “Omar the Chechen” is dead after suffering injuries in a U.S.-led coalition strike in northeastern Syria, the Pentagon also confirmed Monday.
The announcement would appear to clear up the fate of the notorious Omar al-Shishani, a week after a U.S. official said the most-wanted militant had been targeted in a March 4 attack on the jihadi’s convoy.
“We believe he subsequently died of his injuries,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told AFP.
On Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said Shishani had been “clinically dead” for several days.
Shishani — the nom de guerre of Tarkhan Batirashvili — was one of the Islamic State leaders most wanted by Washington, which put a $5 million bounty on his head.