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U.S. citizen detained in Syria charged for aiding IS

Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Prosecutors in a Washington, D.C, federal court unsealed an indictment and an arrest warrant Wednesday charging a naturalized U.S. citizen detained in Syria last year by U.S.-backed forces of being a member of the Islamic State terrorist organization.

Lirim Sylejmani, who is currently in FBI custody, has been indicted on charges of conspiring to provide, providing and attempting to provide material support to IS, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, the Justice Department said in a release. The indictment also charges him with having received training from the militant group.

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"The defendant is a U.S. citizen who abandoned the country that welcomed him to join ISIS in Syria," Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said in a statement. "He will now be held accountable for his actions in an American courtroom."

According to the indictment, Sylejmani, a Kosovo-born U.S. citizen, supported IS in Syria by providing material support and resources, including personnel and services, as well as received military training conducted by the terrorist group from November 2015 to February 2019.

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Sylejmani was detained early last year in the Middle Eastern country as the Syrian Democratic Forces were making their final advances upon IS' last caliphate in the Country, which would fall in March of that year.

After being detained, he spoke with several media organizations, telling NPR in December 2019 while being held in a makeshift prison that he, his wife and children arrived at the IS caliphate via Canada and did so to promises from the militant group that he would receive free housing, electricity and water but starved under their care.

He told NPR that he refused to fight for them and was punished, and that he doesn't know where his family is. In two separate interviews with ABC News in February and CBS News in September, both in 2019, he said he moved to the caliphate because he wanted to live under Islamic law.

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"The choices that I made, in somebody's eyes, the wrong choices, so I face jail time," he is quoted as having said by CBS News.

The Syrian Defense Forces have since turned Sylejmani over to the FBI and he has made his initial appearance before a magistrate judge in U.S. district court in Washington, D.C., prosecutors said.

"Combating terrorism remains the FBI's top priority, and we will continue working with both our U.S. and foreign partners around the world in furtherance of that mission," said Jill Sanborn, assistant director of the FBI's Counterterrorism Division. "Today's announcement should serve as a warning to those who have traveled, or attempted to travel, to join ISIS that the FBI remains steadfast in ensuring they face justice."

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