ALEXANDRIA, VA. — A judge on Monday again ordered a U.S. Army veteran to remain jailed pending trial on charges of supporting a terrorist group while fighting alongside opposition forces in Syria.
Eric Harroun of Phoenix was indicted June 20 and charged with providing material support to a terrorist group. Specifically, prosecutors say he confessed to willingly fighting with an al-Qaida group called Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the groups seeking to topple President Bashar Assad’s regime. The State Department labels al-Nusra as a terrorist group and says it is an alias for al-Qaida in Iraq.
A magistrate had already ordered Harroun detained pending trial. But his lawyer asked the judge to reconsider, saying Harroun was mistaken and confused about the various opposition groups and never actually joined up with al-Nusra.
Public defender Geremy Kamens said Harroun had done research before entering Syria and wanted to avoid al-Nusra. But he spoke little Arabic and, when he ended up making a hasty retreat after his first battle, found himself in a pickup truck surrounded by what he believed were al-Nusra fighters. But Kamens said that in reality, the evidence now shows he had joined up with the similar sounding al-Nasser brigade, which is not a terrorist group.
Kamens said there is “zero corroboration” to back up Harroun’s initial claims that he was fighting with al-Nusra. If Harroun was fighting with the legitimate Syrian opposition and not al-Nusra, he didn’t commit a crime, Kamens has argued.
Prosecutor Carter Burwell argued that Harroun confessed not just once, but on four separate occasions. He argued the confession is corroborated by the details Harroun provided, saying the towns in which Harroun said he was fighting are also strongholds of al-Nusra.
At Monday’s hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Magistrate Ivan Davis said he still gives the confession great weight.
He questioned prosecutors extensively about whether the facts corroborated Harroun’s confession, and concluded at the end of the hearing that there was enough corroboration to meet the standard for Harroun’s pretrial detention.