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Captured ISIS defector says he is American
02:13 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Mohamad Jamal Khweis, from Virginia, had gotten into Syria via Turkey in late 2015, Kurds say

He's being held and questioned by Kurdish authorities, who are talking to their "U.S. counterparts"

Reports indicate the captured American may have been an ISIS fighter, a State Department official says

CNN  — 

Kurdish authorities on Wednesday identified the American man – 26-year-old Mohamad Jamal Khweis – captured two days earlier leaving ISIS-controlled territory in northern Iraq.

The Virginia resident traveled from Syria through several European countries and ultimately Turkey last December with a young Iraqi woman, the Kurdistan Regional Security Council said in a statement. He ended up in Iraq the next month and “later fled, he claims, to return home,” the Kurdish agency added.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces apprehended Khweis on Monday near Sinjar “for attempting to enter the Kurdistan region from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul.”

“We are in dialogue with our U.S. counterparts and authorities about the individual and case,” the Kurdish council said. “He is in the Kurdistan region being questioned by relevant security authorities and is provided the care afforded to him under international and local law.”

Earlier this week, a U.S. official said that a man walked out of ISIS-held territory and approached troops in the same area.

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The Kurdish soldiers, evidently fearing he could be a suicide bomber, fired shots at the approaching man before he indicated that he wanted to turn himself in, according to the U.S. official.

In a video, the man appears to say that his father is Palestinian and his mother is an Iraqi, but that he holds U.S. citizenship.

A U.S. State Department official, speaking on background, said reports indicate the man may have been fighting for ISIS before his surrender.

The Islamist extremist group has taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria, and it has staged attacks elsewhere. And it’s done so with recruits from not only the Middle East, but other places, including Western countries like the United States.

Last summer, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported that more than 250 ISIS fighters – out of over 25,000 foreign fighters total – in Syria are Americans.

ISIS poses a threat in the United States as well. A report issued late last year by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism found support for the Islamist extremist group has surged to unprecedented levels, with several thousand sympathizers in the country and more terrorism-related arrests in 2015 than in any year since right after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

CNN’s Michael Pearson, Nick Paton Walsh and Muhammed Jambaz contributed to this report.