American who joined IS pleads guilty to terrorism charge

Omer Kuzu faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

al-monitor Men suspected of being Islamic State (IS) fighters wait to be searched by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces after leaving the IS holdout of Baghouz in Syria's northern Deir ez-Zor province, on Feb. 22, 2019.  Photo by BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images.

Sep 2, 2020

A Dallas man who joined the Islamic State (IS) has pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to terrorism, the US Department of Justice said today. 

Omer Kuzu was captured in Syria by the US-partnered Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in March 2019 and then handed over to FBI custody. Kuzu's sentencing is scheduled for January and faces up to 20 years in federal prison. 

"This defendant, an American citizen radicalized on American soil, pledged allegiance to a brutal terrorist group and traveled halfway across the world to enact its agenda," Erin Nealy Cox, US attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said in a statement. "I am gratified Mr. Kuzu faced justice in an American court."

According to court documents, Kuzu admitted traveling from Texas to Istanbul, Turkey, with his brother in October 2014. From southeastern Turkey, he was smuggled across the Syrian border in an "ISIS taxi" and stayed in several "waiting houses" before making it to Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul. IS is also known as ISIS.

After weapons and physical training in Iraq, Kuzu traveled back to Syria where investigators say he pledged allegiance to IS and “was given a monthly stipend, a Chinese-made AK 47, and an ISIS bride."

His role in the group involved providing communications support in the Syrian cities of Kobani and Hama for fighters on the front lines, according to court documents. Kuzu was then among some 1,500 IS members rounded up in Syria as the Kurdish-led SDF seized the last stretch of territory held by the terrorist group in March 2019.

Some 2,000 foreign fighters, as well as their families, remain in SDF-run facilities across northeastern Syria. Many of their home countries have been reluctant to bring them home for prosecution despite pleas from the Syrian Kurds who control the prisons and have been left to deal with the militants and their families. 

As of December 2019, the United States had repatriated nearly two dozen US citizens from Syria and Iraq — eight adults and 15 children — and charged six with terrorism-related crimes. 

The Donald Trump administration has urged countries to follow its lead and repatriate their nationals who joined IS. On Monday, the United States vetoed a UN resolution aimed at prosecuting, rehabilitating and reintegrating foreign terrorist fighters on the grounds that repatriation wasn’t addressed. 

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