American ISIS fighter repatriated, pleads guilty; US calls on Europe to follow suit

A fighter with the Syrian Democratic Forces near a convoy of US troops outside the Kurdish-majority city of Syria’s Qamishli. (File Photo: AFP)

A 23-year-old US citizen captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and handed over for fighting with ISIS pleaded guilty to terrorism charges, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

Omer Kuzu is accused of handling communications for the terrorist group, ISIS. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to terrorism, the Justice Department said in a statement.

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Kuzu admitted that he and his brother left Texas for Turkey in 2014. After arriving in Istanbul, they used an “ISIS taxi” to smuggle them into Syria. After waiting in Syria, they headed to Iraq’s Mosul.

Read more: Turkey’s smuggling of ISIS affiliates from Syria rings alarm bells

“In Mosul, alongside 40 other foreign fighters, the brothers underwent five days of physical and weapons training led by ISIS instructors. They were then sent to Raqqah, Syria, where Kuzu started work at the ISIS telecommunications directorate,” the Justice Department said.

Kuzu pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic Caliphate and was rewarded with a monthly stipend, a Chinese-made AK-47 and an ISIS bride.

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“Subsequently, Kuzu was sent to the second lines in Kobani, Syria and Hama, Syria, to provide communications support for ISIS fighters on the front lines. He also worked in the Caliphate’s technology center,” the statement said.

He was captured in 2019 by the US-backed SDF and handed over to the FBI before being repatriated to the US to stand trial.

Kuzu faces 20 years in federal prison and his sentencing is set to begin next January.

US calls on Europe to take responsibility for citizens supporting ISIS

John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, thanked “our foreign partners and the FBI in returning Kuzu to this country to face justice in an American courtroom.” Demers called on Europe to take responsibility for “their own citizens who traveled to support ISIS.”

The US vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution earlier in the week on foreign militants fighting with groups like ISIS because it did not address repatriation, an issue that has long pitted Washington against its European allies.

The US wants foreign militants sent home and either prosecuted or rehabilitated there. European states, however, have been reluctant to try their nationals at home, citing difficulty in collecting evidence, concerns about a public backlash and the risk of fresh attacks on European soil.

Thousands of foreign militants from dozens of countries are being held by the SDF in northeast Syria. The Kurdish-led forces also hold tens of thousands of Syrian and foreign women and children - family members of suspected militants - in squalid camps.

Read more: UK wins bid for Supreme Court to hear ISIS bride case

- With Reuters

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Last Update: Wednesday, 02 September 2020 KSA 20:30 - GMT 17:30
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