World News

Islamic State fighter from U.S. in custody in Iraq

ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - 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.

Iraqi security forces work on lowering the Islamic State flag, west of Ramadi, March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

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 frontline in the village of Golat.

Captain 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 General 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 taskforce report.

At least 80 men and women have been charged by federal prosecutors for connections to Islamic State, and 27 have been convicted.

Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay, Kat Jackson, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish, Toni Reinhold