When Kary Kleman decided in 2015 to move his family from their home in Dubai to war-torn Syria, he assured relatives back in the US that he had only good intentions.
But the 46-year-old American now stands accused of fighting for Islamic State, the terrorist group, and could face criminal prosecution on his return to the US.
Kleman was detained by Turkish border police last week while entering from Syria with his Syrian wife and two women whose spouses were killed in Syria or Iraq, according to Turkish officials.
When told of his situation by the Guardian, Kleman’s family denied that he had joined Isis and said he had been trying to make his way to the American embassy in Istanbul and return to the US.
Not long after arriving in Syria, Kleman told the family he had learned the information that led him there “was all a scam”, according to his mother, and his situation became confusing to his relatives.
They said that about 18 months ago, they had alerted the FBI that Kleman might be in danger. An agent told them the bureau needed to look into whether he had become involved with wrongdoing, according to Kleman’s sister, Brenda, who said she “completely agreed” with their caution.
“I told Kary that you have to work with them, and if you’ve done everything right, be calm and it will work out,” she said.
The US state department and the FBI’s field office in Jacksonville, Florida, had not responded to questions about Kleman and his alleged activities by the time this article was published.
Kleman, who converted to Islam about 15 years ago, was born in Wisconsin in July 1970, according to official records. He attended West high school in the city of Wausau. He later moved to northern Florida, where he met Denise Eberhardy, a divorcee. The couple had a son, Spencer, in June 1991.
Kleman and Eberhardy were married at the Glad Tidings church in Jacksonville in January 1997. But Kleman filed for divorce in 2001. In May that year, a circuit judge agreed that the marriage was “irretrievably broken”, and granted a dissolution.
Marlene Kleman said on Wednesday it was around this time that her son converted to Islam. A friend, whom she could only name as Dave, had converted after marrying a woman from the United Arab Emirates, and guided Kleman into the faith during a difficult time. Kleman grew a beard and became devout.
That time would be right around September 11, 2001.