Eric Harroun

Described as a “war tourist” by a policy analyst in Washington, D.C.,Scott Shane, Rebekah Zemanskyap, “Judge Rules Against Veteran Who Fought Alongside Syrian Rebels,” New York Times, April 8, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/09/world/eric-harroun-who-fought-with-syrian-rebels-loses-a-court-fight.html?_r=0. Eric Harroun was captivated by the Middle East years before his first visit to the region in 2003.Robert Young Pelton, “The All-American Life and Death of Eric Harroun,” Vice News, April 11, 2014, https://news.vice.com/article/the-all-american-life-and-death-of-eric-harroun. Between 2003 and 2008, Harroun traveled back and forth between the U.S. and the Middle East, visiting Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt.Robert Young Pelton, “The All-American Life and Death of Eric Harroun,” Vice News, April 11, 2014, https://news.vice.com/article/the-all-american-life-and-death-of-eric-harroun. There are no reports that he engaged with extremist groups or was radicalized during this period. However, he did grow increasingly sympathetic to the problems in the region during this time, blaming not only local governments but U.S. foreign policy as well.Nicholas Schmidle, “Lost in Syria,” New Yorker, February 16, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/16/lost-syria.

As a result, Harroun participated in anti-government protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in 2010, and by 2012 was fighting alongside anti-Assad militants in Syria.Nicholas Schmidle, “Lost in Syria,” New Yorker, February 16, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/16/lost-syria. Harroun’s war coverage—on the Internet and specifically social media—was widespread.Scott Shane, Rebekah Zemanskyap, “Judge Rules Against Veteran Who Fought Alongside Syrian Rebels,” New York Times, April 8, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/09/world/eric-harroun-who-fought-with-syrian-rebels-loses-a-court-fight.html?_r=0.

From January 2013 to March 2013, Harroun engaged in anti-Assad militant activities in Syria.Nicholas Schmidle, “Lost in Syria,” New Yorker, February 16, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/16/lost-syria. He came under scrutiny by American intelligence and law enforcement for videos that he posted on Facebook and YouTube.Nicholas Schmidle, “Lost in Syria,” New Yorker, February 16, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/16/lost-syria. Some of these images allegedly include Harroun alongside anti-Assad forces that may have been Nusra Front militants.Nicholas Schmidle, “Lost in Syria,” New Yorker, February 16, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/16/lost-syria;
Carol Cratty, “Army veteran pleads to lesser charge in Syria fighting case,” CNN, September 20, 2013, http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/20/politics/eric-harroun-plea-deal-syria/.
The Nusra Front was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in December 2012.Michael R. Gordon, Anne Bernard, “U.S. Places Militant Syrian Rebel Group on List of Terrorist Organizations,” New York Times, December 10, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/11/world/middleeast/us-designates-syrian-al-nusra-front-as-terrorist-group.html?_r=0.

Once Harroun returned to the United States on March 27, 2013, he voluntarily met with FBI agents at Dulles Airport and was detained the next day on charges that included using a weapon of mass destruction and conspiring to provide material support to a FTO.Robert Young Pelton, “A Weapon of Minor Destruction,” Foreign Policy, April 4, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/04/04/a-weapon-of-minor-destruction/. His public defender at an April 2013 hearing in Virginia argued that there was no evidence to support the allegation that Harroun worked with any terrorist organization. Harroun was released months later in September 2013 on the lesser “export charge involving conspiracy to transfer defense articles.” The court later accepted his period of detainment from March 2013 to September 2013 as a sufficient period of time served.Carol Cratty, “Army veteran pleads to lesser charge in Syria fighting case,” CNN, September 20, 2013, http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/20/politics/eric-harroun-plea-deal-syria/.

This was unlikely Harroun’s first encounter with American officials. A New Yorker article published in early 2015 asserts possible ongoing communications between Harroun and a CIA case officer who went by the name of “Wayne” as early as 2008.Nicholas Schmidle, “Lost in Syria,” New Yorker, February 16, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/16/lost-syria. In February of 2009, the article indicates Harroun planned to learn Arabic and convert to Islam “at the behest of” American intelligence.Nicholas Schmidle, “Lost in Syria,” New Yorker, February 16, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/16/lost-syria. Harroun converted to Islam in Tucson, Arizona, in May 2009 before leaving for Egypt where he moved into a hostel near Tahrir Square, the epicenter for the 2011 protests.Nicholas Schmidle, “Lost in Syria,” New Yorker, February 16, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/16/lost-syria. Consequently, some writers, like Robert Young Pelton, raise the question as to whether Harroun was “duped” into becoming an FBI informant.Robert Young Pelton, “A Weapon of Minor Destruction,” Foreign Policy, April 4, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/04/04/a-weapon-of-minor-destruction/.

Other writers like Gregg Tepper and Ilan Ben Zion have alternatively written for Foreign Policy and other outlets highlighting a more traditional assessment of Harroun as a radicalized American jihadist who embraced Islam through friendships with Muslims in the United States and abroad. Tepper and Ben Zion also note that in ongoing direct communications with Harroun, the would-be jihadist presented himself as “a self-described Sunni Muslim” who claimed to be a Nusra member.Greg Tepper, Ilan Ben Zion, “The Jihadist from Phoenix,” Foreign Policy, March 22, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/03/22/the-jihadist-from-phoenix/?wp_login_redirect=0 . The authors also note that Harroun called one of the authors a “kike” repeatedly over the period of their interactions and denounced the authors as “Zionist conspirators” for an article on him posted on Fox News.Greg Tepper, Ilan Ben Zion, “The Jihadist from Phoenix,” Foreign Policy, March 22, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/03/22/the-jihadist-from-phoenix/?wp_login_redirect=0 .

It is unclear whether Eric Harroun’s radicalization was authentic or part of his purported role as an informant to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Harroun was born in 1981 in Colorado. He was arrested in sixth grade for robbery and described in military records between 2000 and 2003 as having a “personality disorder.”Nicholas Schmidle, “Lost in Syria,” New Yorker, February 16, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/16/lost-syria. Harroun was honorably discharged in 2003 after incurring serious injuries in a car accident in April of that same year.Nicholas Schmidle, “Lost in Syria,” New Yorker, February 16, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/16/lost-syria.

Harroun died of an accidental drug overdose on April 8, 2014.Anna Therese Day, “American Jihadist Who Fought in Syria Dies of an Overdose in Arizona,” Daily Beast, April 10, 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/10/american-jihadist-who-fought-in-syria-dies-of-an-overdose-in-arizona.html.

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