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Eric Harroun -- accused of fighting with terrorists in Syria -- has died, family says

By Anna Therese Day and Wes Bruer, CNN
updated 10:07 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eric Harroun initially was charged with fighting alongside group affiliated with al Qaeda
  • The former U.S. soldier pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, was released in September
  • Harroun, from Phoenix, died Tuesday, according to his family and authorities

(CNN) -- Eric Harroun, an Army veteran from Phoenix who was accused of fighting alongside al Qaeda-affiliated militants in Syria -- and then freed after pleading guilty to a lesser charge -- has died, according to his family and officials in Phoenix, Arizona.

Maricopa County spokeswoman Cari Gerchick confirmed his death and added that the county's medical examiner was scheduled to conduct an autopsy on Thursday.

According to his family, 31-year-old Harroun died Tuesday of an apparent overdose. The family did not elaborate beyond saying on a Facebook page toxicology reports would provide more information.

The former soldier, who served with the Army from 2000 to 2003, was arrested in March 2013 and charged with conspiring to use a rocket propelled grenade while fighting with the al-Nusra Front, an alias name for the terrorist group al Qaeda in Iraq.

Harroun allegedly posted videos on the Internet showing him with weapons.

In September, Harroun pleaded guilty to a lesser charge to avoid a possible sentence of 30 years to life if convicted of the more serious offense.

Harroun had spent six months in federal prison in Alexandria, Virginia, including time in solitary confinement, and a federal judge sentenced to time served. He was then released from custody.

The case presented U.S. attorneys with the challenge of prosecuting an American citizen for fighting alongside a U.S. designated terrorist organization, despite the group's alignment with American interests. The U.S., like the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, both opposed the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Harroun's attorney, Geremy Kamen, said this week that, to his knowledge, Harroun's case was unprecedented. Kamen noted that an FBI agent testified that there was no evidence of Harroun was involved in any terrorist activities.

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