The United States Department of Defense has confirmed that on September 12, 2017, an American ISIS fighter was captured by Kurdish Forces in Syria. Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon stated in a news release that the U.S. citizen is being legally detained by Department of Defense personnel as an enemy combatant. The identity of the U.S. Citizen has not been released.
The U.S. Citizen has not been identified as of this time. The only thing that is known is that the ISIS fighter surrendered to Kurdish Forces on September 12. According to news reports the ISIS fighter was possibly captured near ancient city of Raqqa, the site of violent clashes with Islamic State fighters. After his capture Kurdish soldiers noticed that the ISIS fighter spoke a mixture of broken Arabic and perfect English. After his capture, the ISIS fighter identified himself as a United States Citizen.
The initial reports from the U.S. military stated that they were aware that an ISIS fighter claiming to be a United States Citizen was captured on the battle field by Kurdish Forces. Other U.S. military spokespeople indicated that the fighter “surrendered”. It is still unclear how the ISIS fighter was captured.
In a statement Department of Defenses confirmed the capture of a U.S. Citizen fighting with ISIS against the United States and they have also confirmed that the fighter has been legally turned over to the custody of the U.S. Military. But they have not identified him or released any information on where he is being held.
The F.B.I. is currently investigating and trying to verify the identity of the ISIS fighter and trying to piece together his travels. It is unknown what drew him to fight for ISIS and against the United States.
This is not the first time that an American has been captured fighting against the United States. At the beginning of the War on Terror, John Walker Lindh was captured after the invasion of Afghanistan on November 2001. At the time of his capture Walker was fighting against U.S. Forces alongside the Taliban. On October 4, 2002, Walker pled guilty to knowingly and willingly providing his services as a soldier to the Taliban from about August to December of 2001. A Federal Judge formally accepted his plea of guilty and imposed a sentence of 20 years without possibility of parole.
In March 2016, an ISIS fighter surrendered and claimed to be a United States Citizen. He identified himself as Mohamad Jamal Khweis, from Alexandria, Virginia. In an interview Khweis stated that he had made a bad decision to go to Mosul. He further stated that at the time he made the decision to go fight for ISIS he was not thinking straight. He also stated that he regretted his decision to go fight for ISIS against the United States. Khweis is the first known American to have surrendered or have been captured fighting alongside ISIS.
Karen J. Greenberg, executive director of the Center on National Security at the Fordham University School of Law, stated in an interview that fighting abroad has been the driving force among those in the United States inspired by the group.
It is exactly unknown how many people have left the United States to go fight alongside of ISIS. But in 2015, National Intelligence Director James Clapper stated that over 180 Americans have been arrested trying to go fight in Syria against the United States. It is unknow how many more have been arrested since then or how many have actually left and are currently fighting American forces today.
According to Peter Bergen, CNN’s National Security Analyst, possibly 100 other Americans are believed to have either fought in Syria since 2011 or have seen arrested trying to join the fight against the United States. These reports have not been confirmed, but the possibility is very real.
The biggest fear that U.S. officials have is that some of these fighters could come back home to the United States and plan and execute a terrorist attack. They could also help recruit more American fighters. This is something that Department of Justice will probably have to deal with in the years to come.