An American citizen being held by the United States in Iraq for allegedly fighting for ISIS said he traveled to Syria to work as a journalist and chronicle what life was like under the terror group, according to newly released court documents.
The unnamed American, who is also a citizen of Saudi Arabia, was captured in Syria last September by the Syrian Democratic Forces, an American-backed militia, and handed over to US authorities in Iraq. He has challenged the legality of his detention and is also contesting the government’s position that it may also lawfully transfer him to a third country.
The individual is currently being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
According to the documents released Wednesday, an unnamed FBI agent writes that search warrants issued for an email account used by the prisoner show he communicated with an unnamed press accreditation agency, and later indicated in an email that he “planned to cover various events and stories in a number of areas/countries in the Middle East,” and that he had “gathered a great deal of information living in refugee tents on the Turkish-Syrian border” and requested a link to upload his written articles.
However, the declaration from the FBI official questioned whether the individual had a real desire to report stories from the region.
“To date, FBI investigation has not revealed any instances where” the individual “published any news stories, blogs or any written accounts of any sort, whether they be related to events in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world.”
Through interviews with past acquaintances of the individual, as well as interviews with the prisoner himself, the filings reveal he obtained a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and he spent some time Louisiana during the mid-2000’s where he had a penchant for drinking and gambling but then embraced his Muslim faith, became married and had a child a few years ago.
In his interview with US authorities, the documents say the individual claimed he was kidnapped by ISIS fighters three days after his arrival in Syria after he paid an individual to smuggle him into Syria from a border city in Turkey under the auspices of being a freelance writer.
During his interviews, he spoke of frequently of being moved around various parts of Syria, as well as describing a meeting with ISIS officials who told him of a plan to “use a type of machine, similar to a satellite dish, to transmit microwaves that could bring down an airplane.”
The documents also reveal that when he was captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces in an area near Deir Ezzor, Syria, he was carrying over $4,000 in US cash, two thumb drives, clothes, hats, a scuba snorkel and mask, as well as a Koran, and identified himself as being a member of ISIS, and “wanted to turn himself in and to speak to the Americans.”
According to the filing, the FBI was able to search the prisoner’s thumb drives and found “numerous files on how to make specific types of improvised explosive devices, and bombs” as well as “thousands” of files depicting “military style handbooks with information on weaponry, warfare combat, building trenches.”
An FBI search of the individual’s Twitter account found tweets purportedly sympathetic to ISIS and his online search history showed his support for ISIS and suggested “he was planning to join the terrorist organization” the documents said.
The ACLU, who says the individual wishes to remain anonymous out of concern for the safety of his family, has been able to communicate with their client through secure video conferencing facilities provided by the government.
“The Trump administration is detaining this US citizen in violation of his constitutional rights,” ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz told CNN in a written statement in response to the latest documents. “He should either be charged or freed. Americans have the right to a trial in court to defend themselves from government accusations. It would be grossly unfair to force this American to refute these factual allegations in detail now in a lengthy process that lacks core fair-trial protections when the Trump administration has no legal authority to detain him in the first place.”
A court filing from the ACLU last week further stated the individual “sought to understand firsthand and report about the conflict in Syria; was kidnapped and imprisoned by ISIS; and tried numerous times to escape — and not even the government alleges that he ever took up arms against the United States or anyone else.”
Last month, US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered the US government to give 72 hours’ notice before it attempted to transfer the individual out of its custody to a third country in order to allow his attorneys an opportunity to challenge such a move.
The Justice Department has appealed that ruling to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit which will hear the case in April.