A US citizen who had traveled to Syria to join ISIS and was later captured on the battlefield “pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring to provide material support to terrorism,” according to a statement from the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas.
“Omer Kuzu – a 23-year-old U.S. citizen captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces and returned to the U.S. by the FBI after a five-year stint handling communications for ISIS – pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring to provide material support to terrorism,” the statement said, saying that Kuzu could face up to 20 years in 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,” US Attorney Erin Nealy Cox said in the statement.
As part of the plea agreement, Kuzu, now 25, admitted that he and his brother, Yusuf, departed Texas for Istanbul, Turkey in 2014 and were then smuggled across the border into Syria by an ISIS smuggling network, eventually making their way to Mosul, Iraq, which was under ISIS control at the time.
After basic physical and weapons training, they were then sent to Raqqah, Syria, the then de facto capital of the ISIS caliphate, where Kuzu “started work at the ISIS telecommunications directorate.”
Kuzu admitted he pledged allegiance to the now deceased ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his terror organization.
“He was given a monthly stipend, a Chinese-made AK-47, and took an ISIS bride,” according to the statement from the US Attorney’s Office.
Kuzu was tasked with providing communications support for ISIS fighters on the front lines. He was captured by the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in 2019, alongside 1,500 suspected ISIS fighters.
He was repatriated to the US later that year.
His sentencing is set for January 22, 2021.
The fate of his brother Yusuf Kuzu is unclear but he has not been prosecuted.
The US government has long sought to encourage countries to repatriate their citizens who have been captured fighting for ISIS and the Department of Justice has been able to charge several American citizens for their alleged involvement with the terror grouping.
However, the effort to get other countries to repatriate their citizens from where they’re being held in detention camps operated by the Syrian Democratic Forces has had limited success to date, with only a handful of countries having publicly repatriated their fighters.
Many countries are reluctant to repatriate their fighters because of the difficulty of prosecuting suspected ISIS members based on evidence collected on the battlefield.
Some 2,000 foreign fighters are believed to be held in detention camps operated by the Syrian Democratic Forces.