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An American Defected From Islamic State and Was Captured By Kurds

Kurdish sources say the US citizen and IS defector mistakenly believed he was at the Turkish border when really he was in Kurdish territory in Iraq.
Soldados kurdos Peshmerga toman posiciones, al sur de Kirkuk, en el norte de Irak, el 26 de agosto de 2015. Imagen por EPA

An American who allegedly defected from the Islamic State group was captured in Iraq by the Kurdish peshmerga militia, according to Kurdish news wires.

Citing peshmerga forces on the ground, CBS News also reported that the alleged defector had left IS-controlled territory and was trying to return to Turkey. Rudaw, a Kurdish news service, says the man has been identified as Muhammad Jamal Amin, 27, from Virginia.


Amin mistakenly believed he was at the Turkish border when really he was in Kurdish territory in Iraq. He was apprehended by Peshmerga forces near Sinjar, an area that until recently was controlled by IS militants before they were ousted by Kurdish armed groups.

Related: In Photos: Kurdish Forces Celebrate Routing the Islamic State From Sinjar

Sarbaz Hama Amin, a Peshmerga commander in Iraq, told Voice of America (VOA), a US-government funded news outlet, that his forces first noticed the American during a patrol in the early hours of Monday morning.

"Our Peshmergas who were patrolling the frontline said they saw something unusual and started firing at it," Sarbaz Hama Amin said. "That thing disappeared after we fired at it but our Peshmergas started looking for it.

"After it became light after 5 am, he screamed at us and told us in English, "Who can talk to me? I want to come to you?"," the commander added. "But our Peshmergas didn't understand English. He spoke a very limited Arabic and asked if anyone spoke English. After Peshmergas made sure he had no explosives on, we arrested him and took him to the camp where he said he wanted to surrender."

The commander told VOA that Amin may have come from Talafar, an IS-controlled town not far from Kurdish territory. The American was reportedly carrying Turkish money, his Virginia driving license, a visa card and some dollars.

Amin has a Palestinian mother and Iraqi father, and reportedly crossed over the Turkish-Syrian border two months ago before traveling to Mosul in Iraq. Mosul has been under IS occupation since July 2014.


Video footage was aired on Kurdish television showing a bearded man — possibly Amin — being interrogated by a peshmerga commander. "Where are you from?" He asks. "The United States" the man replies.

Peshmerga ask alleged — Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon)March 14, 2016

The Pentagon is trying to confirm these details. "We are in Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to determine the veracity of these reports," a State Department official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

According to a report by the Soufan Group, US authorities knew of 150 Americans fighting alongside IS in Syria and Iraq — but said unofficial numbers suggested as many as 250.

The US Embassy in Baghdad did not immediately respond to VICE News' request for comment.