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Fortunes Of War: American Army Vet Arrested; Does Fighting Alongside Al Qaeda Mean You Belong?

Posted by Colin Clark on

WASHINGTON: Former American Army private first class Eric Harroun morphed from a jovial and swaggering bad ass, riding around Syria two weeks ago with guns, RPGs and such to suspected criminal arrested as he came home yesterday.

AOL D readers will remember that we covered some of Harroun’s exploits, following him from suspected member of al Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate, to a man reportedly killed by Syrian government forces to a fella swearing he was a member of the Free Syrian Army and not a member of a terrorist organization.

After we sent him a Facebook message telling him about a pro-Syrian video claiming he was dead, we got a message that prosecutors are likely to find interesting:

“Lol I was reported Dead! Show me the link. I never joined Al Nusra !!! I am FSA get it right.”

That’s not what prosecutors say in the nine-page affidavit recoding the reasons for his arrest when he returned to the US at Dulles Airport here.

Here’s how the AP reported it:

“In January, he crossed the border and made contact with the Free Syrian Army, which outfitted him two Russian rifles, according to the affidavit. Within days, Harroun participated in an attack on a Syrian army encampment that was carried out jointly by the Free Syrian Army and the al-Nusrah Front, commonly known as ‘al-Qaida in Iraq’ and designated a terrorist group by the U.S., according to the affidavit. After that battle, Harroun retreated in the back of an al-Nusrah truck. Harroun told the FBI that at the al-Nusrah camp, he was initially treated like a prisoner but was later accepted by the other members and participated in several attacks with them, according to the affidavit.”

This may all boil down to whether fighting alongside a group you have not joined is proof that you support their goals and are thus a de facto member of the group.

A colleague at the Daily Mail reported the day I contacted Harroun in mid-March that he was “alive and well and chilling in Istanbul having a martini,” which is not exactly the actions one expects of a devout member of an al Qaeda affiliate.

On the other hand, Harroun is charged “with conspiring to use a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) while fighting with the al Nusrah Front, an organization commonly referred to as ‘al Qaeda in Iraq’ and designated as a foreign terrorist organization since October 2004,” according to the FBI press release issued yesterday afternoon. So is the fact that he was fighting with the al Qaeda group the problem or is it that he “conspired” to use the RPG — considered a weapon of mass destruction? If his loose affiliation with al Nusrah is the core of the charge, his court case may be very interesting to watch.

Note: In an interesting development, Harroun’s Facebook page has vanished. One assumes the FBI has seized it as evidence, given the photos of Harroun carrying weapons and engaging in combat. I’m trying to get comment from Facebook.

What do you think?