U.S. Army vet faces charges for fighting alongside Syrian rebels
WASHINGTON — A U.S. Army veteran has been charged with conspiracy for fighting alongside a Syrian rebel group linked to al-Qaida.
Eric Harroun, 30, known to Syrians as “the American,” crossed into northern Syria in January and joined members of Jabhat al-Nusra to fight against the Syrian regime, according to an FBI agent's affidavit in support of a criminal complaint filed by prosecutors in federal court in Alexandria, Va.
In news interviews and online posts, Harroun described fighting with the rebels and helping to shoot down a military helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG. He told the FBI he was trained to use an RPG and that he shot 10 people but does not know whether he killed any of them.
The complaint says Harroun conspired to use a weapon of mass destruction, the RPG, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. He made his initial appearance in federal court on Thursday.
Numerous Islamist groups are part of the opposition fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Jabhat al-Nusra is regarded as one of the most effective rebel forces. Also known as the al-Nusra Front, the group was des-ignated a terrorist organization by the State Department in December. The designation bars U.S. citizens from any dealings with the group.
Concerns about such groups as Jabhat al-Nusra have been cited by the Obama administration as one of the reasons the U.S. government has declined to provide weapons to the Syrian opposition. Instead, the rebels depend on arms provided by other countries, particularly Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
In January, Harroun appeared in a YouTube video wearing a black-and-white kaffiyeh and sitting with a group of men wearing military-style clothing. Speaking to the camera, he said, “Bashar al-Assad, your days are numbered. . . . Where you go, we will find and kill you,” the affidavit says.