ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - Islamic State deserter Mohamad Khweis was on the verge of tears Tuesday as he insisted to jurors, after almost six hours on the witness stand, that he loves America.
In the grueling lead-up to the 27-year-old’s emotional outpouring, Justice Department attorney Raj Parekh showed jurors slide after slide of images found on the cellphone Khweis was carrying when U.S. authorities picked him up in Iraq.
Among the photographs were black-clad ISIS recruits and soldiers wielding AK-47s; mass graves; maps of Islamic State-held territory; dead men covered in dust and blood; the body of a U.S. solider engulfed in flames, lying beside his vehicle; and even the World Trade Center at the moment of impact on Sept. 11, 2001.
With each turn of the slide, Parekh first asked Khweis if he knew how the photos ended up on his phone. Khweis struggled to answer, often attempting to explain every piece of evidence instead of following instructions by U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady to simply answer yes, no or I don't know.
Repeatedly, Khweis said that several of the images "accidentally" ended up on his phone. Some appeared after a drunken night of scrolling, Khweis said. Others were there because of general searches he conducted on Google that brought up related material, he claimed. And in one case, Khweis said that perhaps some of the content on his phone, particularly images found under encrypted browsers, ended up there because he momentarily allowed an ISIS facilitator to use his phone in Turkey.
"And after looking at these photos, did any of these deter you from traveling to Syria?" Parekh asked after each slide.
"No," Khweis said each time he was asked.
A native of Fairfax, born to Palestinian immigrants, Khweis has been held without bail pending his trial on a charge of providing material support to a terrorist organization.
In December 2015, the Edison High School graduate bought one-way plane tickets from the United States to London, and from London to Turkey, where he hooked up with human smugglers to cross the border into Syria.
I wanted to “see it for myself,” see the “real Islamic State,” Khweis testified Monday under direct examination.
Khweis said it was only at a safe house littered with weapons that he realized he made a mistake. He claims he engineered an escape, managing after the third try to surrender to Kurdish Peshmerga military forces, but prosecutors note that Khweis never attempted any contact with the U.S. prior to his capture.
After an hour of hammering Khweis on the contents of his cellphone, Parekh began contrasting Khweis’ testimony with what he told FBI agents days after his capture.