Eric Harroun, Phoenix Vet Who Fought Syrian Regime, Now Back in Phoenix
Eric Harroun (right).
Phoenix native Eric Harroun is back in the Valley after taking a plea deal on weapons charges, although he'd been facing a possible sentence of life in prison after the Justice Department accused him of fighting in Syria on behalf of Al-Qaeda.
After the sudden plea deal that called for hardly any punishment, it seems that he doesn't know the reason for the deal, either.
Then again, he thought he never should have been arrested in the first place.
Harroun did a couple of interviews with local TV stations after returning home, and gave no indication as to why the previous charges against him, supporting a terrorist organization and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, were dropped.
Nearly all of the relevant documents in the case surrounding the new plea agreement are sealed, but federal court records indicate they will only be sealed for a few months.
It certainly seems strange, as just months ago, the Justice Department painted Harroun as a terrorist -- this was before politicians like President Obama and Senator John McCain started calling for military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Harroun, an Army veteran, was arrested for fighting that same regime.
In 12 News' segment on Harroun, they got an opinion from journalist Robert Pelton, who has a pretty solid understanding of conflicts in the Middle East, suspected it would be "a little embarrassing" for the government to continue prosecuting Harroun, given what the American public now knows about the conflict in Syria.
However, Harroun's story never really added up.
According to the FBI, Harroun insisted that he hated al-Qaeda, but insisted that he fought alongside a group the U.S. government considers it a terrorist organization, due to its ties to al-Qaeda.
Experts on the Syrian conflict brought in by both sides disagreed over whether it was possible that Harroun was actually fighting with this group.
Even FBI descriptions of Harroun paint different pictures.
In 2003, Harroun had been honorably discharged from the Army after sustaining some sort of brain injury in a car accident. It's unclear the extent of his injury, although his attorney has said he suffers from headaches and memory loss.
At some point after that, Harroun developed an interest in the Middle East, and the FBI was aware that Harroun started traveling around the region. Court filings from federal prosecutors suggest Harroun may have participated in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, a citizen uprising involving many types of people, representing many causes.
He seemed to only be intent on fighting on behalf of oppressed people, a point he repeated on his local TV interviews.
However, the FBI knew Harroun before all of this. It was revealed at a court hearing that a neighbor had reported that Harroun was flying the flag of Hezbollah outside his apartment in Tucson when he lived there.
Not only is it an uncomfortable image for an American to see outside their home, but Hezbollah's currently fighting on behalf of Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime.
Harroun's plea deal may simply stem from a lack of evidence, or agreement, over whether Harroun actually fought for that al-Qaeda-linked group.
The judge in the case repeatedly asked the assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case whether Harroun would have been charged had he only fought for the Free Syrian Army. He couldn't provide an answer.
However, when just a month ago the man faced a terrorism charge that could have carried the death penalty, and is currently sitting in our backyard, sealing all the documents in the case -- with no further explanation -- might not be comforting to everybody.
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