by Amy Forliti
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (AP) — A Minnesota man accused of joining the Islamic State group has been returned to the United States and faces a terrorism charge after spending more than a year in Syrian custody with alleged IS fighters, according to documents unsealed Wednesday.
Abdelhamid Al-Madioum, 23, made his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, appearing via video from a cell. Authorities say he was vacationing with his family in Morocco in 2015 when he secretly booked a flight to Istanbul, Turkey, and then traveled to Iraq and Syria, where he joined IS.
He was indicted last week on one count of providing support to a foreign terrorist organization.
In court documents unsealed Wednesday, authorities allege that Al-Madioum was a soldier for IS, and that at one point he was assigned to a battalion that was responsible for training and preparing foreign fighters to carry out suicide attacks in Europe. He surrendered to Syrian Democratic Forces in March 2019.
His attorney, Manny Atwal, said Wednesday that she was still looking into the case and was meeting with Al-Madioum and his family.
Al-Madioum, who was 18 when he left for Syria, is a native of Morocco and a naturalized U.S. citizen.
He was on summer break from his computer science studies at a Minnesota community college in 2015 when he and his family traveled to Morocco to visit relatives. On July 7, 2015, Al-Madioum skipped dinner saying he wasn’t feeling well, and the next day, he was gone. He left everything behind except his cellphone and passport, according to court documents.
Al-Madioum’s family told the FBI that he called them in August 2015 and said he was working in a hospital in Mosul, Iraq, which was then under IS control. His family later told investigators that Al-Madioum had been in contact with them again, saying he had moved to Raqqa, Syria, married the widow of an IS fighter and had a child with her.
According to court documents, the Department of Defense obtained one IS document that identifies Al-Madioum as a soldier. Another IS document showed that by February of 2017, Al-Madioum was listed as injured. When he was detained in 2019, he had two children with him and said his wife had been killed.
While in prison in Syria, Al-Madioum told FBI agents that he lost his right arm in an airstrike. He also said that all IS members were called soldiers.
Speaking to CBS News from the Syrian prison last fall, Al-Madioum said he never fought for the Islamic State group but that he had hopes of becoming a doctor.
“They gave me a blank check to buy whatever I wanted,” said Al-Madioum.
According to court documents, Al-Madioum told the FBI that he got advice about joining IS from a Twitter account that authorities say is known to post IS propaganda. He told the FBI that the Twitter user connected him with someone who told him how to get to Syria.
He said he was smuggled into Syria and then taken to Mosul, where he took first-aid classes and was assigned to work in a hospital. After two months in Mosul, he was injured, but stayed on the IS payroll, according to court documents. He told the FBI that he stayed in Mosul for 18 months and surrendered after IS began to lose territory.
Al-Madioum is among several Minnesotans suspected of leaving the U.S. to join the Islamic State group. In total, roughly three dozen people have left Minnesota to join militant groups in Somalia or Syria. In 2016, nine Minnesota men were sentenced on federal charges of conspiring to join the Islamic State group.
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Amy Forliti is a reporter for The Associated Press.
Photo “Abdelhamid Al-Madioum” by CBS News.