An American captured by Kurdish forces earlier this week said he “wasn’t thinking straight” when he joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“At the time I made the decision to go because I wasn’t thinking straight,” Mohamad Jamal Khweis said in an interview with a Kurdish TV station that aired late Thursday. “On the way there, I regretted. I wanted to go back.”
Khweis, 26, of Virginia, was captured by a Kurdish peshmerga on Monday near the town of Sinjar, which fighters took back from ISIS late last year.
In the interview, he detailed a journey that started in December and took him from the United States to London to Amsterdam to Turkey to Syria to Iraq.
In Turkey, he said, he met an Iraqi woman whose sister was married to an ISIS fighter. The woman arranged his travel to Syria and later to Mosul, Iraq.
“I made a bad decision to go with the girl and go to Mosul,” he said.
In Syria, he said, he had to hand over his ID and passport, and was given the nickname “Abu Omar.”
In Mosul, he underwent daily religious training along with about 60 to 70 other foreign recruits from countries including Russia, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, he said. He didn’t meet any other Americans, he added.
He said he decided to flee after about a month because he didn’t agree with ISIS's ideology.
“The situation, I found it hard,” he said. “It was pretty hard to live in Mosul. It’s not like the Western countries. It’s very strict. There’s no smoking. I found it hard for everyone there.”
He escaped Mosul with the help of a friend, he said, and walked to Kurdish territory.
“I wanted to go to the Kurdish side because I know they are good with the Americans,” he said.
The interview ended with a message to Americans: “My message to the American people is that life in Mosul is really, really bad. The people who are controlling Mosul don’t represent the religion. Daesh, ISIS, ISIL, they don’t represent the religion. I don’t see them as good Muslims.”