American IS 'sniper' charged in New York: Justice Dept

Suspected Islamic State fighters being held in February by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces after leaving the Islamic State's last holdout of Baghouz, Syria (AFP Photo/Bulent KILIC)

New York (AFP) - A naturalized American who was a sniper for the Islamic State group has been charged in New York with material support for a terror group after being captured in Syria and repatriated to the United States, the Justice Department announced Friday.

Kazakhstan-born Ruslan Maratovich Asainov fought for the Islamic State in Syria for five years before he was captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces and handed over to US custody, the department said.

Asainov, 43, was brought back to the United States on Thursday and was to be arraigned Friday afternoon in federal court in Brooklyn.

He fought for IS in Syria from 2013 to 2018 as a sniper and a weapons trainer for other combatants.

Over time, he rose up through the ranks of the organization, and was named an "emir," or chief, in charge of weapons training.

He stayed in contact with some people in the United States, sending messages and photographs of himself from the battlefield.

"We are the worst terrorist organization in the world that has ever existed," one of his messages from 2015 said, according to court documents.

Asainov also tried to recruit another individual in the United States to join the group, who, he did not know, was an informant for the New York Police Department.

"The United States is committed to holding accountable those who have left this country in order to fight for ISIS," Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a statement.

- Few IS fighters repatriated -

Asainov appeared to be the first actual Islamic State battlefield combatant brought back to the United States from Syria for trial.

Several other US citizens have been repatriated, including women married to IS fighters, a man who taught English to IS followers, a former university student who became an informant for the US government shortly after joining the group, and a man who was captured before he joined in any combat.

They are among thousands of foreign fighters and their family members captured last year in the US-led campaign to eradicate the group from its strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Syria's Kurds now hold around 1,000 foreign men in jail, as well as some 12,000 non-Syrian women and children in overcrowded camps.

Washington has pressured allies to take back their own citizens who joined IS and place them on trial at home, but Britain, France and others have so far declined to do so.

London has refused to repatriate the two surviving members of the so-called Beatles, an Islamic State kidnap and torture cell made up of four men from Britain.

France allowed an Iraqi court to put on trial 11 French nationals who joined the group. They were sentenced to death in May and June, drawing criticism that Iraq was selling the use of its justice system and that France was outsourcing its responsibilities.

"We hope countries around the world, including our European allies and partners, will likewise repatriate and prosecute their own citizens for traveling to support ISIS," Demers said.