US citizen who joined ISIS could get 35-year sentence

A former public transit driver in Virginia who later joined the Islamic State group in Syria faces up to 35 years in prison when he is sentenced Friday.

Mohamad Khweis, 27, of Alexandria, Va., became the only U.S. citizen convicted in a U.S. jury trial of joining ISIS overseas. He was convicted on terrorism charges earler this year in a federal court in Virginia.

Khweis traveled to Islamic State-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria in December 2015, even obtaining an official membership card. But he found life there distasteful and escaped after a few months.

Prosecutors say Khweis volunteered to be a suicide bomber and deserves a 35-year prison sentence.

Defense lawyers are seeking a five-year prison term at Friday's sentencing hearing. They say Khweis never intended to harm the U.S., and that a harsh sentence would deter other Americans who joined the Islamic State from quitting.

In March, the Washington Post reported that Khweis had quit his job as a public transit driver in northern Virginia and traveled to Syria with the intention of joining ISIS.

“He made it from his couch in Alexandria to an Islamic State safe house in Raqqa in about two weeks,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick and Raj Parekh, a trial attorney in the Justice Department’s Counterterrorism Section, wrote in a court filing at the time. “This is not a person who frightens or breaks down easily. … This defendant knew exactly what he was doing.”

Khweis was born to Palestinian immigrants and raised in Virginia, the Post reported.

He ultimately fled from ISIS and was captured by Kurdish forces in Iraq, the report said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.