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Army veteran charged with conspiring to use WMD

March 28, 2013|By Richard A. Serrano

WASHINGTON—Federal authorities arrested and charged a 30-year-old U.S. Army veteran turned Middle East “freedom fighter” with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction -- a rocket-propelled grenade -- after allegedly joining the Al Qaeda in Iraq network and its forces fighting President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria.

Eric Harroun was arrested after flying into Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia, returning from a flight from Syria. He allegedly made “voluntary” statements to FBI agents about his activities fighting with Al Qaeda’s Al Nusrah Front as part of an “RPG Team” in Syria.

According to a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., Harroun said he carried three rockets in a backpack in Syria, along with an AK-47 assault rifle. He said his team would fire rockets at defensive positions protecting the Assad regime, the complaint said. On at least one occasion, Harroun said, he hit a tower with one of his rockets, the complaint added.

Though the U.S. is supporting some of the groups opposing Assad, Al Qaeda in Iraq’s Al Nusrah Front has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization since October 2004, a fact that Harroun allegedly admitted knowing under questioning by the FBI. That alleged statement, coupled with the charge of conspiring to use a destructive device outside the United States, could bring him a sentence of life in prison if convicted.

Harroun served in the U.S. Army from 2000 to 2003, when he took a medical discharge after a car accident.  More recently, in Internet postings and videos, he has fashioned himself with the alias “The American” and allegedly boasted of being a freedom fighter in several of the Arab Spring rebellions.

“I hate bad guys like Bashar,” he told FoxNews.com earlier this month, referring to Syria's leader. “I hate Iran too. I am a freedom fighter.”

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Richard.Serrano@latimes.com

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