Judge Keeps Virginia-Bred ISIL Defector Behind Bars

     ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) — A federal judge denied bail Tuesday to a Virginia native who joined the Islamic State but has renounced the terrorist group since his capture.
     Said to be the first American captured on the ISIL battlefield, 26-year-old Mohamad Jamal Khweis is charged with providing the terrorist organization with material support.
     Khweis made headlines back in March when Kurdish authorities said the man had surrendered himself to them. During his three-month detention in Erbil, Khweis gave a statement that aired on Kurdish television in which he said he “wanted to go back to America.”
     Calling his temporary allegiance to the Islamic State a “bad decision,” Khweis said he had followed a girl to Mosul, a region that has been under ISIL control since 2014.
     The son of Palestinian immigrants, Khweis sported a blue prison uniform at this afternoon’s detention hearing. With long sideburns and a small goatee, Khweis’ dark hair appears to be growing in from the buzz cut pictured in his booking photo.
     When Khweis slightly veered toward his family behind the bench as he entered the courtroom, two U.S. marshals guided him forcibly into his chair beside his defense attorney.
     Eyes wide with sharply protruding cheekbones, Khweis immediately bowed his head and sunk down into the leather chair.
     Prosecutors urged the court today to keep Khweis jailed ahead of trial.
     “He was radicalized to join the most notorious terror group on the planet and he poses a danger to the community,” U.S. Attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick said. “And he’s a flight risk.”
     Though Khweis has portrayed himself as an accidental ISIL recruit, Fitzpatrick said the defendant knew what he was doing.
     “He did ample research, watched the videos, and he knew the nature of the organization that he wanted to join,” Fitzpatrick said. “He had the wherewithal to make it to that part of the world, deceiving those closest around him. When he left in December of 2015, his family had no idea where he was until he was picked up in March.”
     Jamal Khweis, the defendant’s father, slunk back against the pew at this remark.
     Throwing his head back, the father closed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest, inhaling deeply.
     Defense attorney John Zwerling emphasized that Khweis became disillusioned with ISIL quickly, fleeing at the first available opportunity.
     “[Mohamad] turned himself to the first allies he could find after leaving the second safe house, and he has cooperated ever since,” the attorney said. “Doesn’t that stand for something?”
     Presiding U.S. Magistrate Judge Ivan Davis found it did not.
     “An individual with little history of criminality cuts both ways,” Davis said. “He knew what it was about to go over there, knowing how [ISIL] conducts themselves. You have to have been radicalized to go join an organization that beheads people. No one in this court believes beheading people is not radical, no one. And it is certainly hard to believe that some part of [the defendant] did not know this.”
     Zwerling had tried to impress upon the court that Khweis would stay put if released ahead of trial.
     “Whatever [Khweis’] ability to travel is, he now lacks a passport,” Zwerling said. “If allowed to stay in the custody of his family, he will be on GPS monitoring. His family’s eyes are open now and they trust their son enough to put up their own home as collateral.”
     The court also heard from Zwerling that Khweis had no history of violence — just “small-time marijuana charges” — prior to his journey abroad.
     Once in Mosul, “he had no military training, no firearms training,” Zwerling said.
     “He went there and he heard the perversion of Islam, and that’s why he left.”
     Khweis nodded vigorously in agreement with his attorney, as did his father who sat only a few rows behind him.
     Denied release into third-party custody, Khweis looked out toward the court and to his family once more as U.S. marshals quickly escorted him by the arm out of the courtroom.
     Today’s hearing comes at a particularly tense time for federal prosecutors, as the nation grieves a massacre in Orlando by a shooter who pledged allegiance to ISIL.
     The FBI has confirmed past investigations of New York-born Omar Mateen, but new evidence suggests that the 29-year-old embraced violence more out of struggle with his sexual identity than allegiance to radical jihadists.
     Numerous witness accounts since Sunday have reported that Mateen was a “regular” at Pulse, the gay club that became a site of carnage Sunday, and that he had accounts on gay hook-up apps like Grindr.

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