Trial Set for Virginian Captured on Islamic State Battlefield

WASHINGTON (CN) – A Virginia man said to be the first American captured on the Islamic State battlefield appeared far less gaunt Thursday as a federal judge set his trial date.

Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 27, came before U.S. Magistrate Judge Liam O’Grady in Alexandria on Thursday morning. The court scheduled Khweis’ trial for April 10, 2017, at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Appearing to have gained weight since his June bail hearing, Khweis wore a faded green jumpsuit to court today. Clean-shaven, with hair neatly coiffed, the defendant appeared rested as he entered the courtroom quickly and immediately took a seat next to his attorney, John Zwerling.

In another contrast to the bail proceeding, which several of Khweis’ relatives attended, no friends or family sat in on the motion hearing Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick requested the trial date for April, as both the prosecution and defense will need more time to review discovery that contains a bevy of classified documents.

Fitzpatrick suggested that it could take over a month to review all items in discovery and that the U.S. government would cooperate with the defense to declassify or redact items as needed.

Khweis was charged in March with providing material support to the terrorist group known as ISIS or ISIL, short for the Islamic State and the Levant. Kurdish authorities said that Khweis elected to surrender himself to them. Detained in Erbil for three months, Khweis made an appearance on Kurdish television proclaiming that he “wanted to go back to America.”

A son of Palestinian immigrants, the Edison High School graduate said his temporary allegiance to ISIL was a “bad decision” made after he followed a girl to Mosul, Iraq. The region has been under ISIL control since 2014.

At his bail hearing in June, Zwerling said that his client regretted his decision immediately and disliked the “perversion of Islam” he saw upon arrival. Khweis contends that he quickly turned himself over to “the first allies he could find” after leaving a safe house, and that he has cooperated with the U.S. government ever since.

U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick didn’t buy it, noting that Khweis’ personal computer and phone contained a variety of ISIL propaganda videos. Fitzpatrick also questioned the integrity of Khweis’ word.

“He had the wherewithal to make it to that part of the world, deceiving those closest around him,” Fitzpatrick said. “When he left in December in 2015, his family had no idea where he was until he was picked up in March.”

Deemed a flight risk, Khweis was denied bail.

Khweis had no prior history of violence and only “small time marijuana charges” on his record. The defense says Khweis received no military or firearms training when he landed in Mosul.