Members of the Free Syrian Army patrol an area in Qusayr, 15 kms (nine miles) from Homs, on January 24, 2012. The United Nations said that well over 7,500 people have been killed in the brutal Syrian crackdown amid new international demands for the Damascus government to allow humanitarian access. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images
WASHINGTON - A former U.S. soldier was charged Thursday with taking up arms with an al-Qaeda group in attacks against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Eric Harroun, a 30-year-old Phoenix Army veteran, was charged with conspiring to use a rocket-propelled grenade while fighting with the al-Nusrah Front, which has claimed responsibility for nearly 600 attacks in Syria since November 2011, according to federal court documents filed by the Justice Department.
Harroun is charged specifically with conspiring to use a destructive device outside the United States. The charge does not include aiding a terror group, and it makes no distinction against who he allegedly used the weapon.
If convicted, Harroun faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Harroun, who allegedly posted Facebook photographs of his activities in Syria, crossed into that country in January 2013 and "participated in attacks led by the al-Nusrah Front," the documents state.
The former soldier served in the Army from 2000 to 2003, when he was medically discharged after being injured in a car accident.
After entering Syria, according to court documents, Harroun appeared in two videos chronicling his alleged efforts with rebel forces and his hunt to "kill'' Assad.
In one of the videos, dated Jan. 26, the documents state that Harroun "speaks directly to the camera and states: 'Bashar al-Assad, your days are numbered. ... Where you go we will find you and kill you.'''
In Feb. 14 video, Harroun, dressed in military-style clothing, is shown riding in a Jeep, celebrating the downing of a helicopter.
The court documents refer to a March 11 interview Harroun gave to FoxNews.com in which the former soldier "acknowledged'' that he had been fighting with Syrian rebels and the al-Nusrah Front but had since returned to Turkey.
Later, in a series of interviews with the FBI at the U.S. Consulate in Instanbul, Harroun allegedly stated that he had traveled to Turkey in November 2012 in preparation for his entry to Syria. Within three days of his January arrival in A'zaz, Syria, Harroun allegedly told federal agents that he had joined with the Free Syrian Army and the al-Nusrah Front in an attack on a Syrian Army encampment.
After initially being treated as a "prisoner'' at a al-Nusrah Front camp following the attack, Harroun allegedly told agents that he was "accepted'' by the group and his weapons were returned.
In his interviews with the FBI, Harroun allegedly said that he fought with al-Nusrah for 25 days, engaging in seven to 10 battles in which he was assigned to an "RPG (rocket-propelled-grenade) team.''
In a third interview with agents, after returning to the United States on Wednesday, Harroun allegedly acknowledged launching the rockets against regime forces.
"On at least one occasion,'' the documents state, "he hit a tower with a rocket.''
Harroun was arrested Wednesday, shortly after he was questioned by FBI agents. His court-appointed attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday. A detention hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday in Alexandria, Va