Published September 20, 2013
Ex-U.S. soldier Eric Harroun, who allegedly fought alongside an Al Qaeda affiliate against the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge Thursday and was sentenced to time served, The Military Times reported.
Harroun, a Phoenix native, was charged in June with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and conspiracy to use destructive devices overseas, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.
Those charges, one of which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted, were reduced to a charge of conspiring to violate arms-control laws, the report said. U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton accepted the plea on the lesser charge.
The case posed a political dilemma for the Justice Department. Harroun was fighting for the Syrian rebels, who are supported by the Obama State Department.
According to court documents, Harroun allegedly participated in multiple attacks with Jabhat al-Nusra -- an affiliate of Al Qaeda in Iraq -- and was alleged to have “carried and used various firearms, including a sniper rifle, an AK-47 style machine gun, and a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) weapon” during his time fighting with al-Nusra.
Foxnews.com in March broke the story of Harroun’s alleged participation with the Al Qaeda affiliate. “I was separated in a battle and most of my [Free Syrian Army] group was K.I.A. and al-Nusra picked me up,” Harroun told FoxNews.com during one of several brief interviews conducted via Skype.
Harroun, who at the time spoke to Foxnews.com from Turkey before flying to the U.S., where he was taken into custody, dismissed a question about fighting alongside al Qaeda terrorists who have saturated the ranks of Syrian rebels in the fight against Assad. He charged that "the U.S. plays both sides, too," and that the Al Qaeda splinter group welcomed him with open arms.
“Getting into al-Nusra is not rocket science," he said. "It just takes balls and brains.”