Federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia this week unsealed charges against a Kosovo-born US citizen who admittedly joined the Islamic State in Syria and was captured in the waning days of the multinational war against the jihadi group.
Lirim Sylejmani, previously a resident of Chicago, was held in a prison run by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the city of Hasakah for more than a year before being transferred to the United States by the FBI.
Prosecutors have charged Sylejmani with providing material support to the Islamic State, and receiving training from the terrorist group.
“The defendant is a US citizen who abandoned the country that welcomed him to join ISIS in Syria,” Acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin said, according to a Department of Justice press release. “He will now be held accountable for his actions in an American courtroom.” The Islamic State is often abbreviated as IS or ISIS.
In November, Sylejmani told this journalist (when the journalist wrote for The Defense Post) that he had smuggled his wife and two small children into war-torn Syria because he “wanted to live in an Islamic country.”
Asked why Saudi Arabia or Pakistan might not be suitable alternatives, he said the so-called Islamic State had offered free housing and electricity. “It just sounded very nice,” he said, despite being aware of the groups’ beheadings and sexual slavery, in which he claimed he took no part.
Prior to his departure, Sylejmani absorbed jihadi propaganda and communicated with IS members via his home computer. “People told me how happy they were” under IS. “They loved it,” he said.
Sylejmani, who has a background in engineering from the University of Illinois, Chicago, said he imagined rebuilding homes in the increasingly bombed-out IS caliphate.
Instead, he said, he was robbed by Turkish soldiers on his way into Syria. Upon arrival he was thrown in the back of a truck bound for Iraq, where he was given a Kalashnikov and put through jihadi basic training.
Sylejmani denied he had been a fighter, claiming he was somehow exempt due to marriage. Paradoxically, he admitted he carried his weapon and was shipped from one key battlefront city to another amid the caliphate’s bloody disintegration.
He finally surrendered during the one of several humanitarian cease-fires during the battle of Baghouz, where the remnants of IS made their final stand on the Euphrates near the Iraqi border.
In detention, he was interviewed by a number of Western journalists. Few of his claims could be verified.
Sylejmani, who also said he has lived in Canada, is believed to be among the last US citizens suspected of IS membership still held in Syria. Last year, he said he hoped to be extradited to Kosovo. “It’s a small country,” he told this journalist.
Sylejmani has already appeared before a federal judge in Washington.