A Palestinian American member of Islamic State gave himself up to Iraqi Kurdish forces in the country’s north Monday, an Iraqi Kurdish general said, a rare instance of a voluntary surrender of a militant fighting with the extremist group in Iraq.
The man had been “lurking near the peshmerga lines” since late Sunday night, according to Maj. Gen. Feisal Helkani of the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, which are playing key role — along with the Iraqi military — in battling the extremist Islamic State group.
Helkani said his troops first tried to shoot the man, assuming he was a would-be suicide bomber.
“Then in the morning, he walked across and gave himself up,” Helkani said, adding that the man is a Palestinian American who was fighting with Islamic State in Iraq. The surrender took place on the front lines near the town of Sinjar, which was retaken by Iraqi forces from Islamic State militants late last year.
The Iraqi Kurdish general did not provide further details or a hometown for the man but a photograph of the fighter’s American driver’s license was posted on social media sites, identifying him as Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 27, from Alexandria, Va.
The discrepancy between the fighter’s family name on the license and the one provided by the Kurdish general could not immediately be reconciled. His first name was also spelled differently.
In grainy cellphone footage, also posted on social media shortly after the surrender, the man is seen surrounded by Iraqi Kurdish troops and confirming that he is from the United States and that he is Palestinian. In response to an interrogator’s question, he says he was in the city of Mosul, which is under Islamic State control.
Though rare in Iraq, Syrian Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State in neighboring Syria have told the Associated Press that they are seeing an increase in the number of Islamic State members surrendering following recent territorial losses.
In Iraq, Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a series of suicide attacks that have killed more than 170 people over the last few weeks. Iraqi officials also say the group has launched a number of chemical weapons attacks.
Local officials in the town of Taza in Iraq’s north say a recent attack injured more than 600 people. The attacks follow a string of advances by Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, including in the western city of Ramadi, which was declared fully “liberated” by Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition officials last month.
Islamic State still controls large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria and has declared an Islamic “caliphate” on the territory it holds. The extremist group also controls Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, as well as the city of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad.