A Virginia man who joined ISIS and surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga fighters earlier this week has expressed regret for entering the terror group's self-proclaimed caliphate, saying he "made a bad decision" and "was not thinking straight."
In an interview broadcast on the Kurdistan 24 news station, Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 26, said he had made his way to the ISIS-held city of Mosul, Iraq with an unidentified woman whom he had met in Turkey while traveling.
"We spent some time together, and she said that she is from Mosul, Iraq," Khweis said. He added the pair traveled from Istanbul to Mosul by bus and private vehicle, arriving on Jan. 16.
"On the way there I regretted [my decision], and I wanted to go back home after things didn’t work out and saw myself living in such an environment," Khweis said.
It was not immediately possible to establish the woman's identity, whether she was a member of ISIS, her ultimate fate or whether she even existed. U.S. officials told The Daily Beast this week that the terror group has established a network of women responsible for recruiting new fighters.
Khweis said he was only able to stay in Mosul for a month before he had enough. "It is not like Western countries. It is very strict and no smoking there," he said, adding that most of the foreign fighters he saw were from countries in central and southern Asia.
"I found it very, very hard to live there," Khweis said. "I found someone who could take me back to Turkey. First he told me that he will take me, but then he said it will be difficult to take me all the way to Turkey. [Later] he told me he will take me near Turkey’s border."
Khweis ultimately surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces near the town of Sinjar, which was retaken by Iraqi forces from ISIS late last year.
Khweis said he had arrived in Turkey after traveling through Europe, stopping in London and Amsterdam along the way. He also elaborated on his background, saying that his parents had moved to the U.S. from the Palestinian territories before he was born.
Khweis said he attended mosque in America, but did not do so frequently. Apart from his encounter with the Iraqi woman, he did not offer any other reason for why he joined ISIS.
When asked by his interviewer if he had a message for the American people, Khweis said, "Life in Mosul is really very bad. The people who control Mosul don’t represent a religion. Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIS] does not represent a religion. I don’t see them as good Muslims."