American who allegedly fought with Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria indicted

Ex-U.S. soldier Eric Harroun, who allegedly fought alongside an Al Qaeda affiliate against the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in the nation’s ongoing civil war, was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on two charges related to his activities in Syria.

Harroun, a Phoenix native, was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and conspiracy to use destructive devices overseas, according to a U.S. Department of Justice Press release. The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil H. MacBride and Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

Harroun, 30, faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted of the second charge. The charge of providing material support carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

According to court documents cited in the release, 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. 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 during one of several brief interviews conducted via Skype.

Harroun, who spoke to from Turkey before flying to the U.S. and being 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.”

Harroun’s indictment came on the heels of the Obama administration's announcement that the U.S. would begin supplying military equipment to Syrian rebels, though particulars of Washington's armament plan remain undisclosed. The American government has also repeatedly stated that, in arming Syrian rebel militias, it would be able to differentiate between radical Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda and those deemed pro-Western that fall under the umbrella group known as the Free Syrian Army.

Aymenn al-Tamimi, the Shilman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum and researcher on jihad in Syria, told on Thursday that keeping arms from migrating between Syrian rebel groups would be an almost impossible, task. He noted in a recent blog post on that Jabhat al-Nusra and Free Syrian Army groups operating near the southern city of Daraa often cooperate.

The FSA is a conglomerate of militia-style groups and former Syrian military personnel, according to Rafael Green, a research fellow at the Middle East Media Research Institute. Green said the FSA cooperates with groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, and is not particular about who takes up its cause.