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2 Americans accused of fighting for ISIS are captured by Kurds in Syria

A woman and children walk in a camp where the families of foreign Islamic State militants are held in northeast Syria. (Alice Martins for The Washington Post)

BEIRUT — Kurdish forces in Syria said Sunday that they had captured two American citizens hiding out in the country’s final Islamic State stronghold.

In a statement, the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, identified the detainees as Warren Christopher Clark, 34, and Zaid Abed al-Hamid, 35. It said the pair had been captured alongside three others suspected of being foreign recruits in the extremist group.

Law enforcement agencies say several dozen Americans joined the Islamic State in its once-sweeping self-proclaimed caliphate across Syria and Iraq. The SDF did not provide additional information about the two Americans it detained, but according to a report by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, Clark had previously sought work with the Islamic State and sent a résumé and cover letter for an English-teaching job at the University of Mosul in Iraq.

“I have a long background in teaching a variety of different subjects . . . this has given me leadership skills and I have learned to adapt to new situations and environments with ease,” Clark wrote in the cover letter, using his nom de guerre, Abu Muhammad al-Ameriki.

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“Teaching has given me the opportunity to work with people from diverse cultural backgrounds and learning capabilities,” he wrote. 

The U.S.-led coalition did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the pair’s detention, and spokesmen for the SDF provided no further details of their incarceration. The men’s fate could be complicated by the uncertainty surrounding President Trump’s unexpected announcement that some 2,000 U.S. troops will be withdrawing from Syria in the near future. Washington has shown little desire to extradite captives accused of being part of the Islamic State.

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In a sign of how far some of the group’s members had traveled as their battlefields shrank, the SDF said Sunday that Clark and Hamid had been captured hundreds of miles from Mosul, in the Hajin area of eastern Syria. 

Clark was a Texas resident and worked as a substitute teacher in the Houston area before traveling to Saudi Arabia and Turkey to teach English, according to a February report by NBC News. It is unclear, however, when he crossed into Syria. 

He reportedly converted to Islam in 2004 and later became radicalized online, according to the deputy director of the George Washington program, who spoke to NBC about Clark early last year. 

The NBC report described Clark as having come from a “middle-class churchgoing family with ties to the military,” citing someone who knew him in high school.

There was little publicly available information about Hamid. 

Cunningham reported from Istanbul. 

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