HOUSTON (CN) – A Texas man whom U.S. allies captured this month on a battlefield in Syria appeared in federal court Friday to face charges of supporting the Islamic State terrorist group.
Prosecutors unsealed an indictment against Warren Christopher Clark, 34, today following his initial appearance before a U.S. magistrate in Houston. If convicted, Clark faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
He is charged with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State group, also called ISIS, from 2011 to October 2015.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish group that works with U.S. soldiers, announced on Jan. 6 that Clark was one of five foreigners they had captured during an offensive against ISIS in northern Syria, where some of the terrorist organization’s estimated 30,000 fighters are active in one of the few areas that remain under its control.
Clark does not fit the typical profile of the dozens of U.S. citizens who have traveled to the Middle East to join ISIS.
A practicing Muslim since his high school days in the Houston suburb Sugar Land, Clark graduated from the University of Houston in 2007 with a political science degree and worked as substitute teacher in the Houston area before he moved to Saudi Arabia, where he taught English from 2012 to 2014, the Houston Chronicle reported.
He then taught English in Turkey for four months, according to a resume he reportedly sent to the terrorist group, along with a cover letter that opened with the sentence, “I am looking to get a position teaching English to students in the Islamic State.”
Clark used his adopted Muslim name Abu Muhammed al-Ameriki in the letter, which was found in a house in Iraq once held by ISIS fighters and given to scholars in George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
In a Jan. 15 interview in Syria, Clark, bearded with a shaved head and using crutches, told NBC News that he never fought for ISIS and he had been injured in a personal fight.
He said he joined ISIS because he wanted to see “what the group was about and what they were doing” and that the videos the group posted online of their fighters beheading people did not dissuade him from making the journey.
“Yes of course I saw the videos, you know,” he told NBC. “You know, I think, you know, with the beheadings, OK that’s execution. You know I’m from the United States, from Texas, they like to execute people too.”
U.S. law enforcement brought Clark back to Houston from Syria on Thursday, Houston U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick said in a statement.
Though prosecutors filed Clark’s indictment in Galveston federal court, he appeared Friday in a wheelchair at the Houston federal courthouse before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Bray.
After Bray asked Clark if he understood the charges, Clark told the magistrate judge he had a question, the Chronicle reported.
“Before I had spoken to MSNBC and the FBI, I was very lost. I was . . .,” he said, before Bray cut him off.
Bray said, “You understand you have the right to remain silent? For example, what you did right now? Don’t do that.”
A federal prosecutor said Clark should not be released from custody because he is a flight risk. Bray declined to release Clark on bond, but set a detention hearing for Jan. 30 at 2 p.m.
Clark was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service and transported to a federal prison an hour north of Houston.
His attorney Mike DeGeurin gave the press a preview of the arguments he will make at Clark’s detention hearing.
“He is a very polite, articulate, well-educated person and we are seeking that he be released to the custody of his family,” DeGeurin told the Chronicle.
DeGeurin did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday afternoon.
Clark is one of four people who have been charged with supporting ISIS in the Southern District of Texas.
Omar Faraj Saeed al Hardan was sentenced to 16 years in federal prison in December 2017, and Asher Abid Khan received an 18-month sentence in June 2018. A third man’s charges are pending.